Allyson Felix’s audacious 200/400 challenge

DAEGU, South Korea — Maybe Allyson Felix’s audacious challenge yields three gold medals here at the track and field world championships.

Or, given the odds and the competition, maybe not.

Felix, long one of the world’s premier 200-meter sprinters, has opted here into the 400 as well. She is scheduled, too, to run in the relays.

Given everything else surrounding the U.S. track and field program — the injuries, the doping-related issues, the general tumult — it’s hardly a stretch to say that the spotlight in advance of these championships, which get underway Saturday, finds itself trained directly on Allyson Felix.

On top of which, it has been drizzling here pretty much non-stop for days. Someone has to be a bright spot, right?

“I’m excited to do something different,” she said Thursday morning, reporters pressed in close to hear every word she said.

Two days before competition, and Allyson Felix greets the press in Daegu (photo courtesy IAAF)

Again, the chances of Felix succeeding at this task are not particularly robust, and that is not — repeat, not — a reflection on her.

The 200 and the 400 are two very different races.

The 200 is 22 seconds of hugely technical power and pain. There’s the curve and then there’s the straightaway.

The 400, of course, is a full lap around the track. As any high school coach could tell you, virtually anyone can run 300 meters. It’s that last 100 that’s the killer.

You train differently for the two races.

Yet — every once in a while there emerges a special talent who can do both at the elite level. Three people have done the 200-400 double:

Michael Johnson did it, twice, once at the world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1995, and then again at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. Marie-Jose Perec also did it in Atlanta. Valerie Brisco-Hooks did it at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Allyson Felix can. There’s no question she can. She has proven over the course of the IAAF Diamond League circuit that she is world-class in both events.

What Allyson Felix and her coach, Bobby Kersee, want to find out this year — the year before the Olympics — is how best to get her ready for both come next July in London.

That’s what this is about here in Daegu.

So while they would gladly take three golds in Korea, each said, separately, that what they really want is to find out where she is now and how to get better over the next year.

Kersee, calling it the ultimate challenge,” said he has taken to referring to Felix as “Seabiscuit.” Like the horse. “I like the way she races,” he said.

A bonus: Reuters reported here Thursday that Brisco (as she is now known) will be here in Daegu, to “walk Allyson through what she did.”

It’s hardly a lock that Felix will win even the 200, her specialty over the years. Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, the Olympic gold medalist in the 200 in Beijing, awaits. Another American, Shalonda Solomon, has run the fastest time in the 200 this year, 22.15.

Beyond which, the 400 comes first — the heats get underway Saturday. Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States is the defending champion in the event; Amantle Montsho of Botswana, though 1-12 all-time against Felix, has dominated the Diamond League with five straight victories.

“I know it going to be tough,” Felix said.

“To me, when you go to a race your goal is to win. So when you don’t win, it’s a disappointment — you’re not living up to your goals. For me it’s a learning experience. I’m going to take away whatever happens here into next year, and learn from it. I’m just going to try to grow from it.

“Of course,” she said, “I’m in it to win it. But I’ll be okay if it doesn’t end up that way.”

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