August 9, 2012

Felix hits her stride to win elusive gold

What look was supposed to sweep across Allyson Felix's face once she realized what transpired Wednesday night, when Americans won medals in rapid succession on the track? Astonishment or joy? Relief or bliss? All of it rolled into one?

LONDON – What look was supposed to sweep across Allyson Felix's face once she realized what transpired Wednesday night, when Americans won medals in rapid succession on the track? Astonishment or joy? Relief or bliss? All of it rolled into one?

Felix, 26, has been in her sport's consciousness since she was a teenager, when she seemingly could run as fast as she wanted in any event she chose.

Careers, though, have a funny way of unwinding, and Felix, for once, smiled broadly at the end of an Olympic sprint as the U.S. track and field team took center stage with a seven-medal haul that included three golds.

"Just a flood of emotions," Felix said.

Individually, sure, but also for the team as a whole. Felix's victory in the women's 200 meters – following her silver medals in 2004 and 2008 – was the centerpiece of a night that also brought gold for Brittney Reese in the women's long jump and Aries Merritt in the men's 110-meter hurdles.

And Americans merely beat other Americans. Carmelita Jeter took the bronze behind Felix, Janay DeLoach did the same behind Reese, and Jason Richardson followed Merritt to the line for the silver.

Throw in a silver in the women's 400-meter hurdles for Lashinda Demus – who was just .07 seconds behind Natalya Antyukh of Russia – and the United States had one of the best nights in its Olympic track and field history.

With three days left, Americans have 20 medals, 11 by the women. That's a bigger haul for the U.S. women's track and field team in any Olympics other than 1984, which was diluted by the Soviet-led boycott.

"We come from such a rich legacy and history," Felix said. "So just to do our part and come out on top is just special. We just want to take care of business for our country."

Wednesday, running inside Felix by two lanes was her nemesis, Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica. In 2004 and 2008, Campbell-Brown took the race out hard. Felix glided behind her, unable to catch up.

"She always loses the races in the first 60 meters," said Felix's brother Wes, an ex-sprinter and now her manager. "If you look back at '04 and '08, Veronica has always been too far ahead."

So to win, she had to change. It occurred over the past year, when Felix also trained for the 100. She qualified for the Olympics in the shortest sprint, but it was to build her speed for the 200. At 100 meters, she would have to go out harder, to dig more quickly, to turn her legs over more often. She would have to stop being so darn graceful and grind.

"I think my running style is a gift and a curse, because it looks very fluid," Felix said. "It's nice, but sometimes you have to get into that aggressive mode."

When Felix finished in 21.88 seconds, .21 seconds ahead of silver medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica – and a half-second ahead of fourth-place Campbell-Brown – she took a moment to take it in, then raised her arms. In Beijing, Felix saw her family in the stands and broke down. In London, a smile grew and wouldn't leave.

And when she draped herself in an American flag and began a victory lap, she did so on a night when her compatriots took back the track.

Reese fouled on four of her six attempts in the long jump. But her second leap was 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches. Even as DeLoach and Russia's Elena Sokolova took shot after shot, they couldn't overcome it.

Merritt was prepared to be aggressive in the 110-meter hurdles, given the field he was expecting. But in the morning heats, China's Liu Xiang, the 2004 gold medalist, crashed out for the second straight Olympics. And in the evening final, Cuba's Dayron Robles, the 2008 gold medalist, pulled up lame.

"I just heard this grimace, this loud yell," Merritt said. "But I just kept running anyway."

He did, finishing in 12.92 seconds, .01 of a second off Liu's Olympic record and .12 of a second ahead of Richardson, the 2011 world champion.

More U.S. medals could be in store today. In the decathlon, defending champion Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic withdrew because of a heel injury. American Ashton Eaton, who broke Sebrle's 11-year-old world record just over a month ago, assumed the spotlight, taking an imposing 220-point lead over U.S. teammate Trey Hardee through five events.

Eaton topped the field in three events but did not score as high in any as he did during his world-record performance at the Olympic Trials. His 10.35 seconds in the 100 meters broke Bill Toomey's 44-year-old Olympic record but fell short of his 10.21 in the Trials.

The 46.90 he ran in the night's last event, the 400, was the best of the field but trailed his world-record effort by 0.20. At the Trials, he went 27 feet in the long jump; in London, he managed 26-4 1/4, the day's best.

Only one American will run in today's men's 200 final. Wallace Spearmon's semifinal time of 20.02 was second only to Jamaican Yohan Blake's 20.01. Jamaica's Usain Bolt, seeking an unprecedented Olympic 100-200 gold-medal repeat, advanced in 20.18.

But in the men's 5,000, the Americans on Saturday will have three finalists for the first time since 1932: 10,000 silver medalist Galen Rupp, Bernard Lagat and Lopez Lomong.

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