Phil Sheridan: Felix finally gets 200-meter Olympic gold

Posted: August 09, 2012

LONDON - In the biggest competition of her life, long jumper Brittney Reese cost herself a precious attempt.

"I messed myself all up," Reese said. "I was too busy cheering for Allyson Felix."

That's how much people like Felix, who finally completed her personal quest for a gold medal in the 200 meters here Wednesday night. The fresh-faced 26-year-old from Los Angeles really is just that nice. Maybe too nice. Maybe that was the problem in Athens and Beijing, where she took silver instead of gold.

"It's been a long time coming," Felix said after winning in 21.88 seconds, .21 ahead of silver medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica. "Before the race, I reflected on the journey. I thought about Beijing and crossing the line and seeing my family and just breaking down there. Tonight I saw them and it was just complete happiness."

There was a lot of that going around for the U.S. team. Felix's gold and Carmelita Jeter's bronze were among seven medals won by the U.S. team in frenzied hour or so. Along with Felix, Reese rallied from her "messed up" jump to win gold, and Aries Merritt won gold in the 100 hurdles.

For good measure, Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee were first and second, respectively, in the decathlon standings after half the events. They could both be on the podium Thursday night.

"Some of us in D Block in the Olympic village were saying we had to close the gap on China," said Jason Richardson, who took silver behind Merritt. "We're always aware of the medal count. Track and field is in the canon of American sports. We needed to step up and show the U.S. still has moves like Jagger."

The medal spree did indeed move the U.S. team in front of China in the overall medal count, 81-77. The Chinese still have more gold medals, 36-34, going into the final weekend of the Games.

Sanya Richards-Ross finished fifth in the 200 after finally claiming her long-sought gold in the 400 a couple nights earlier. She understood how Felix felt.

"I'm very happy for Allyson," Richards-Ross said. "The pressure is too heavy to describe. It's a pressure I put on myself. Now I'm finally breathing, not suffocating under disappointment."

Felix's disappointment began in Athens. Just 18 years old, she finished 0.13 seconds behind Jamaican Veronica Campbell.

Felix was disappointed, but young and in no hurry. She rededicated herself to training and went into Beijing, age 22, as the favorite. She lost to Campbell again, this time by 0.19 seconds.

"I remember just coming over here [to the media] in tears in Beijing," Felix said.

That time, she knew just how long the four years of waiting and preparing for another chance really was.

"The four years before this and the four years before that," Felix said, "gosh, it really was a long time coming. That's really what blows my mind."

Campbell - now Veronica Campbell-Brown - was in this very fast field, too. Campbell-Brown is 30 now but was still a threat. She finished fourth, 0.24 seconds behind Jeter. She and Felix embraced on the track.

"I'm happy for her," Campbell-Brown said. "I'm her friend. We've been racing each other a long time."

Felix ran her race, her elegant stride carrying her past Fraser-Pryce and into the lead in the straightaway. It looked as if the pack would somehow catch her, a result of Felix's effortless-looking style. She remained poised, fluid, her eyes straight ahead on a finish line it took eight years to reach.

"I think my running style is a gift and a curse," Felix said. "It looks very fluid. It's nice, but sometimes you have to get in that aggressive mode and you need that quicker turnover. I think when people look at me, I always look like I'm floating and I'm going slow."

Another way to describe "that aggressive mode" is having a little nasty competitive edge. And that may be what Felix was missing in her two previous Olympic finals. She really may be too nice. She said she thought running in the 100 this time helped her find that higher gear in the 200.

This time, the last thing her coach said was, "Go for it," and she did just that. She took control of the race immediately and no one was going to take it away from her. Not this time.

Four more years of frustration before Rio? No thanks.

"I think what motivated me the most was losing on the biggest stage, and just never forgetting that feeling," Felix said. "I don't know if I'd had success, if it would have been the same. Now that I'm here, I'm able to say I embrace the journey, embrace the defeats, because that's what has pushed me all these years. It made tonight very, very sweet."


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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