Friday, August 10, 2012

Allyson Felix 2012 Gold Medalist in 200m

Allyson Felix finally won her long-sought after individual gold medal in the 200m as she pulled away from the crowded field to win in a time of 21.88.  Having finished in 2nd in both the 2008 and 2004 Olympics, it was a realization of a decade-long dream to finally win the highest honor in her premier event, even though she had won 3 World Championships in the 200m.

2003 Pan American, Santo Domingo - Bronze 22.93
2004 Olympics, Athens - Silver 22.18
2005 World Championships, Helsinki - Gold 22.16
2006 World Athletics Final, Stuttgart - Gold 22.11
2007 World Championships, Osaka - Gold 21.81
2008 Olympics, Beijing - Silver, 21.93
2009 World Championships, Berlin - Gold 22.02
2011 World Championships, Daegu - Bronze 22.42
2012 Olympics, London - Gold 21.88

Her personal best was 21.69, run at the US Olympic Trials in June 2012.  The world record for the 200m is 21.34, run by Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Olympics.

The story that these career finishes tell is very interesting.  Obviously, the silver medal in 2004 could only have been mildly disappointing, because she had never finished so high in an international competition.  But as she began to rack up the wins - international titles in '05, '06, '07 - as she approached Beijing 2008, the Gold was clearly her sole aim.  Though she had lost to Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown in Athens, she had bested her rival in both subsequent World Championships, '05 and '07.  So finishing 2nd again to VCB in Beijing on what should have been her crowning moment was absolutely crushing.

After claiming another World Championship title in '09, again over VCB, Felix tried a new tactic.  She began to prepare for the 400m in addition to her 200m specialty.  What followed was disastrous for her 200m.  Though she claimed silver in the 400m, her longer distance training had taken from her natural speed down the stretch in the 200m.  She finished a disappointing 3rd, once again watching VCB win.

This may have perhaps been the lowest point of her career.  It may have felt like she was headed in the wrong direction.  Heck, if she couldn't win in the Olympics, at least she had to own the World Championship as she always did!  But she altered strategy for 2012 US Trials and decided on enhancing her natural strength - pure speed.  Strategically deciding to train for the 100m, she calculated that working on an explosive start, as needed for the 100m, could only help her 200m.

Of course, nothing goes smoothly when character is being built and Allyson became embroiled in the middle of a media firestorm when she tied with Jeneba Tarmoh as the 3rd qualifier in the 100m.  Ultimately, for unsporting reasons, Tarmoh inexplicably conceded her spot to Allyson instead of a run-off.  Some thought Allyson should have ceded her spot since she had already qualified for the 200m, but what athlete puts in dedication and time in training, but doesn't want it settled on the field?  Allyson was in the right.

The bigger story should have been Allyson's personal best time at the 200m in the US trials.  Her running declared her the favorite in the Olympics.

In London, though she finished 5th in the 100m, it was actually her best time ever (10.89) at that distance.  Then, 4 days later, Allyson finally beat VCB, and everyone else on the biggest stage in her best event.  Ultimately, Allyson's gold was the only one keeping Jamaica from completely dominating the men's and women's 100m and 200m sprints.  After a strong start on the curve, she had the speed to just pull away from the 100m champion, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, in the straight away.

Side note: one thing I've always enjoyed about Allyson is her graceful stride, as if she's floating in the air.  I mean this in the best way - she runs like a girl.  Instead of the raw strength and masculinity in the rugged running styles of competitors like VCB, SAFP or Carmelita Jeter, I like that Allyson keeps her femininity even in her hardest sprint.

It was telling that her celebration wasn't wild, outlandish or conceited.  Instead, it was subdued, tasteful, yet joyful - as if she had always expected this.  Or perhaps she knew now that it was supposed to be this way all along.

Edit: 8/12 - Allyson went on to win 2 more gold medals as part of the 4x100m relay and 4x400 meter relay.  The 4x100m team destroyed a 27 year old world record, set by the East Germans (steroids!) in 1985.  Her 3 gold medals made her the most decorated US Track & Field athlete of these games and the most any US T&F woman had achieved at an Olympics since 1988.

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