Allyson Felix ready to leave comfort zone for double gold bid
Allyson Felix, the three-time 200 metres gold medallist, was looking for something special from her fifth consecutive athletics World Championship.
The American sprinter found it by combining her favourite race with an event that Bob Kersee, her long-time coach, mentioned on the first day they sat down for a chat more than six years ago - the 400 metres.
No woman has won both events at a single World Championships but Felix, who has come through a gruelling twice-a-day workout schedule at what she jokingly calls "Bobby's Boot Camp", will try to do just that at the competition in Daegu, South Korea, which starts on Saturday.
"I feel like now is the time to get out of my comfort zone," Felix said in an interview. "It is going to be extremely difficult but I am excited to challenge myself."
The California speedster could have settled for a run at her fourth consecutive 200 world title, a feat that has never been accomplished. But the 25 year old decided the lure of the 200-400 double was too enticing to turn her back on.
"This is a nice change, a nice different challenge in something that is very difficult, and I love a good challenge," said Felix, who already has the most career world championship gold medals by a female (six).
She can thank Kersee, who has coached multiple Olympic champions including Florence Griffith Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Valerie Brisco-Hooks, for the idea.
When Kersee interviewed to become Felix's new coach in 2004 one of the first things out of his mouth was, "Are you interested in running the 400?" Kersee said.
Felix, still just a teenager, was already an Olympic silver medallist in the 200 but Kersee saw 400 potential as well.
After all, he had coached Brisco-Hooks to Olympic gold in both the 200 and 400 at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Now it is Brisco-Hooks who is offering advice and encouragement to Felix as she prepares for six races in seven days.
There could be even more if Felix competes for the United States in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
The challenge would be immense. Along with world-class fields with times faster than hers this year, Felix must fight mental and physical fatigue.
Many talented athletes would not even try, Kersee said.
"You could be home watching Criminal Minds instead of being out on the track feeling like you are losing your mind," the coach said of the workouts Felix has put in this year.
Yet the likeable runner has endured, even finding time to bake a German chocolate cake one day and going to watch films with friends.
A lanky high school sprinter just eight years ago, she has emerged as the female face of US track and field. Success in Daegu could raise her profile even higher heading into the 2012 London Olympics.
Gregarious, well-spoken and attractive, Felix graced the cover of the international athletics annual for 2011 and has the type of personality adored by sponsors and the media.
Kersee likened her to a modern-day Wilma Rudolph, the 1960 US Olympic gold medallist at 100, 200 and 4x100 relay.
"I don't think Allyson is quite as tall as Wilma, but she [Wilma] kind of had that gazelle, slender look," Kersee said.
Felix, though, has even more range than Rudolph and in June became the first US woman to win national championships at 100, 200 and 400.
However, she does not have an individual Olympic gold medal, her only victory coming in the 4x400 relay. Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown has beaten her in two Olympic 200 finals.
It is for that reason that both Kersee and Felix said that a repeat of the 200-400 double was not set in stone for London even if she was successful in Daegu.
"What we do here is no decision, one way or the other, on what we are going to do next year," Kersee said, adding that there could even be a 100-200 double in 2012.
"Or she might just concentrate on the 200 and give it one more shot."
The key is getting Felix that individual Olympic gold medal.
"Pound for pound, is she one of the best female sprinters of all-time? Yes," Kersee said.
"But the Olympics mean a lot to our sport, so she is not going to say she is one of the best until she proves that."
Published: August 24, 2011 04:00 AM