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Felix wants to wash out silver taste
For Allyson Felix, it has been eight years of living with failure, eight years of living with disappointment: “I’ve had eight years now,” she said, “to think about being a silver medalist.”
About being a what? Felix can make “silver medal” sound like a swear word, as if she has ever said a swear word. She has won silver in the 200-meter sprints in the past two Olympics. She also has won gold in a relay but doesn’t seem to count that.
That’s because her job was to make us forget about Marion Jones, rebuild credibility and spotlight in track and field and become the next American superstar athlete. Her job was to save track and field.
But you can’t get there with silver medals in individual events.
Not to put too much pressure on her, or anything.
The bar is too high for Felix, the demands too much. They would be too much for anyone, really. But she still thinks she can get there, and the frustration is that she almost does.
The Olympic trials start Friday in Eugene, Ore., and Felix has decided to run the 100 meters as well as the 200. She is going for the double. (She also is signed up for the 400, though that’s likely just an attempt to keep options open as long as possible).
Her choice of events has been an issue for her. It has played tricks on her, as she has struggled to find the right combination. It’s about how much she can do, and how much she needs to do.
Imagine Felix winning gold in both signature sprints at the London Olympics, and then also in two relays. It’s possible, and it might turn her into a superstar.
It’s also possible that by running too many events, she could wear herself down and come home without an individual gold again. Imagine if she wins only another silver.
So should she run the 200 and 100, or the 200 and 400? Or maybe it would be best just to run the 200, and focus on one thing.
“I think it’s a good argument,” she said. “Sometimes you do spread yourself too thin and, um, yeah. It also makes it difficult when you know you have potential at something and you want to fulfill that. I just said, ‘OK, the 200’s my main focus, and if I do another event, it’s going to come second to that.’ “
At the world championships last year, she tried a double in the 200 and the 400. What happened? She got silver in the 400 but dropped to bronze in her main event. She had won gold in the 200 at worlds three times. But at worlds, she said she didn’t have her normal speed for the final kick.
But there’s a bigger question, too: Even if everything goes right in London, can she really be all the things that are expected of her? Can she really save track in the U.S.?
We look for stars to emerge from nowhere at the Olympics. With Felix, she can only emerge from one step below the mountaintop. Jones, and the sport’s other steroid cheats, might have done too much damage for one person to fix.
You might know Felix’s story already. You would definitely know it if she had two golds, instead of two silvers.
Her hero was Jones, who eventually admitted to having been a steroid cheat and to lying to authorities about it. That crushed everyone’s faith in track and field. From there, people just assumed that everyone was cheating.
That wasn’t the only reason for the sport’s fall in the U.S. Americans like American stars to cheer for. When it comes to women’s athletes, fair or not, they tend to want marketable good looks, too.
The whole thing fell on Felix. And she took it on herself to rebuild the sport and also to make sure that she never let down any kids the way Jones let her down.
Her father is a minister, and she was among a group of athletes pledging to clean up the sport’s image. Just give her any steroid test, anywhere, anytime, she said. She’ll take it. She’ll pass it.
She has been a good person. She has the marketability. All she needed was a couple of gold medals.
But come on. The part about having to live with silver medals, that was just tongue-in-cheek, right?
“No, it’s real,” she said. “It’s constant reminder. I don’t think I ever got over it. I never will and I don’t think I want to, just because it motivates me every day.
“It’s an awful feeling, and I just never want to be in that place again. Every day, I’m constantly thinking about it when I’m not feeling (like working). It pushes me.”
It isn’t just about what she could do for the sport, of course. Felix is trying to reach her own expectations.
But the truth is, if track were filled with athletes like Felix, the sport would slowly regain its credibility. We’re into instant gratification, though. We’re into now, not into slowly rebuilding things.
“I think, you know, if you have major performances, that’s what gets attention,” she said. “But you never know where it’s going to come from. Before ’08, no one saw what (Usain) Bolt did coming. So you just, you never know. It could come from anywhere.”
Americans would get excited about a track athlete winning multiple golds. But track doesn’t offer the same potential as, say, swimming or gymnastics. Michael Phelps won gold medals in Beijing, day after day on TV. It was the repetition of greatness.
Felix is running two events and a relay, and even that might be too much to ask.
She and coach Bobby Kersee think the 100-200 double will be better for Felix than the 200-400. Hope is that if the 400 took too much out of her, the 100 could sharpen her up.
Since her near-misses at the world championships, they have worked on building early speed. And this spring in Doha, she ran a personal best 10.92 in the 100, beating Veronica Campbell-Brown and Beijing Olympics gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica. American Carmelita Jeter will be the Olympic favorite. But earlier this month, at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York, she finished fourth in the 100.
“It would definitely be very disappointing to me (to never win an Olympic gold),” she said. “That’s the honor. I’d totally be lying if I said I could walk away and be happy without that.”
She is shooting for the mountaintop. It’s only one step away.
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