Allyson Felix adapts to tackle tougher Olympic double than Michael Johnson
NEW YORK -- It’s Saturday, Jan. 16, and Allyson Felix hasn’t yet been told that the Olympic track and field schedule has been changed to make her possible 200m-400m double more feasible in Rio.
“We found it just from checking that website,” said Felix’s older brother and agent, Wes, who then notified his sister. “Then I started getting calls [from media].”
The IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, officially announced the schedule change shortly after 6 ET that evening.
Four hours later, a tweet from Felix’s account expressed how grateful she was toward the IAAF, USA Track and Field and the International Olympic Committee for the schedule change.
On Thursday, Felix reiterated that she’s “happy for the opportunity” that came with the schedule change. But both she and her older brother would have preferred an even greater timetable shift.
The change moved the 200m first round from the same evening session as the 400m final to a morning session earlier that day.
On Thursday, Felix cited the more optimal schedule for a 100m-200m double, with a full day off in between events. (The 100m and 200m also had a day in between at London 2012, where Felix ran her personal-best in the 100m and then won her first individual Olympic title in the 200m.)
“I hope that one day [the 200m-400m] will be the same double like the [100m] and the [200m] and able to not overlap,” Felix said ahead of her last indoor meet of the winter season on Saturday at the Millrose Games (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, 4-6 p.m. ET). “In some Games, it doesn’t overlap. So I think we were hoping that would be the solution, maybe finish the 400m and then start the 200m, but just happy for the opportunity to go for it, even though it’s going to be very challenging.”
In 1996, the original Olympic track and field schedule called for the men’s 200m semifinals and 400m final on the same day. Michael Johnson reportedly said then that he would have chosen one individual race if the Atlanta 1996 schedule remained that way.
The March 1996 revised schedule allowed Johnson a full day of rest between the 400m final and the start of the 200m rounds. Johnson, in golden shoes, went on to become the first man to sweep the 200m and 400m at an Olympics.
The women’s 200m-400m double gold has also been done at the Olympics. American Valerie Brisco-Hooks swept them at Los Angeles 1984, and France’s Marie-Jose Perec in 1996.
Brisco-Hooks and Perec, like Johnson, also had one day off between the 400m and 200m in their Olympic schedules.
“We would’ve preferred for there to be a day in there,” Wes said. “We’re super grateful for the change. It at least gives her a shot to do it. ... It’s hard enough for the other people who have done it in the past to pull it off. Their schedule was a little bit more favorable.”
Update: Michael Johnson’s Twitter pointed out that he (as well as Perec) had four rounds each in the 200m and 400m in 1996. Felix would have three rounds each in the 200m and 400m.
Felix was asked last fall for her definition of success at her fourth Olympics in Rio and answered, “winning four gold medals.” The 200m, 400m and the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
Felix and the U.S. relay teams were beaten by Jamaica in the 4x100m and 4x400m at last August’s World Championships, where Felix’s only individual race was the 400m, which she won to set up a potential Rio double.
“The 200m is my baby,” Felix said. “The 400m, we have a love-hate relationship.”
One female track and field athlete has won four golds at a single Games -- the Flying Housewife Fanny Blankers-Koen at London 1948 -- and two American women have done it -- swimmers Amy Van Dyken-Rouen at Atlanta 1996 and Missy Franklin at London 2012.
“I would never want to leave the sport and not go after everything I wanted,” Felix said last fall, adding Thursday, “I’m 30 years old. If I’m going to do it, it’s going to have to be now.”
Felix doubted that she would attempt a 200m-400m double this year if she hadn’t crossed off her first individual Olympic gold medal in London.
“That 200m gold was something I had wanted for so long, and it was such a rocky, up-and-down road to get there,” she said. “Once I did get it, I was able to say, hey, I want to challenge myself more, not set limits. ... I think that did make me more comfortable to go for it.”
But the schedule is not completely comfortable. Felix is focusing more on intense workouts on back-to-back days plus training later in the evenings to ready for the possible Rio gauntlet.
“One of the biggest concerns is that there’s a late-night semifinal [8:35 p.m. Rio time on Aug. 14], early morning 200m round [9:35 a.m. Rio time on Aug. 15], late-night final [10:45 p.m. Rio time on Aug. 15], so being able to kind of simulate that in practice,” Felix said.
She must qualify for the Olympic team in the 200m and 400m at the Olympic trials in July first (there are four days off in between events in Eugene, Ore.), and then decide if she wants to compete in both in Rio.
“I would like to think I haven’t run a perfect race,” Felix said. “I hope my perfect race is yet to come.”