Allyson Felix, slowed by injury, finishes .01 shy of chasing Olympic goal set in 2005
EUGENE, Ore. -- Allyson Felix leaned forward while sitting on a folding chair under a tent, about 40 feet from the Hayward Field finish line, shielded from the drizzle. Her brother, Wes, sat to her right.
“I was right there,” she told him.
This was several minutes after Felix’s fourth-place result in the 200m at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Slowed by a serious ankle injury, she missed the Rio team in the event by one hundredth of a second and a chance at a 200m-400m double at the Olympics.
It’s the first time she failed to qualify for an Olympic or world championships team in the 200m since she was 15 years old in 2001.
“This whole year, that had been what I was working for, so for it to end here is disappointing,” said Felix, who clocked 22.54 seconds and has a personal best of 21.69. “Then when I look back, and I see everything that happened, I still think it’s quite amazing.”
An injured Felix previously made the Olympic team by winning the 400m in the fastest time in the world for the year seven days earlier. She will go to Rio and presumably compete in two events, the 400m and the 4x400m relay.
But she won’t get a chance to defend her Olympic 200m title, and maybe not be part of the 4x100m relay.
Since 2005, The Felixes have discussed a goal of wanting to win four gold medals at these specific Olympics.
“It’s going to hurt, and not just today or tomorrow, because you’re not going to get that back,” Wes said as his sister spoke to media about 20 minutes after the race.
Felix partially tore multiple right ankle ligaments when she landed on a medicine ball in an April 17 workout. That injury affected her 200m more than her 400m at Trials, though she expects one more month of healing will be an immense help for Rio.
“Her power was just not there,” said Wes, the 2002 World Junior Championships 200m bronze medalist (a race won by a 15-year-old Usain Bolt). “She was giving up three steps out of the blocks.”
Felix, after that slow start, made it back to fourth place coming around the curve, behind Tori Bowie, Jenna Prandini and Deajah Stevens.
In the final strides, Felix uncharacteristically grimaced as she tried to close the gap on Prandini for third place and the last spot on the Olympic team (video here).
Felix’s right shoe crossed the finish before any part of Prandini’s body, but as everyone learned at the 2012 Olympic Trials, it’s the chest that stops the clock.
Prandini leaned too early and actually fell toward the line, putting her chest out but losing considerable momentum.
Felix ran through the line, then came to a stop around the curve. She doubled over, hands on knees, breathing heavily, staring at the south scoreboard.
“I wasn’t sure,” who got third, Felix said. “I just knew I gave all I had and leaned at the line. It just wasn’t there.”
For a 22-second race, the wait lasted nearly 20 seconds for the third-place result to flash on the screen.
The top half of the scoreboard showed Felix’s face. The bottom half showed the first two finishers’ names. Then the third came up. Prandini, in 22.53 seconds.
Felix showed little reaction, rising up and congratulating the others. Wes waited for her just off the track and accompanied her to the tent.
There were no tears. Just more heavy breathing, staring toward the track and exchanging short sentences with the brother who carried her off the track at the 2013 World Championships, when she tore a right hamstring in the 200m final.
There’s nothing to hang your head about, Wes told her.
“Just look at what life looked like 10 weeks ago,” he said later, “sitting in doctors’ offices and not knowing if she would run at all.”
Wes thought back to 2005, when Felix won the first of three straight world titles in the 200m. It was that year that they decided on the goal of four gold medals at one Olympics.
Even if Felix made the 200m team Sunday, she likely would have entered Rio an underdog in her trademark event. At the world championships last August, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers and Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson ran faster than Felix’s personal best in the 200m.
Last October, Michael Johnson, the last man to sweep the 200m and 400m at an Olympics (two women have done it), urged Felix to double in Rio at a USA Track and Field Hall of Fame induction.
In January, the IAAF amended the Rio track and field schedule at the petition of Felix’s coach, Bob Kersee, to give her more time between the 200m and 400m in Rio.
“She’s been training for this moment since she was 17,” Wes said. “You know you’re not 100 percent, and a hundredth away is heartbreaking.”
A few days before the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Felix was passed a phone and asked by an American reporter about the Rio Olympics.
Felix expressed then, three years out, that she wanted to race multiple individual events for a second straight Olympics. But instead of the 100m-200m double that brought her a personal best and gold medal in London, Felix wanted to tackle the 200m-400m in Rio.
“I still have potential in it, unexplored potential,” said Felix, conjuring the 2011 World Championships, where she set a 400m personal best and lost by .03 to Botswana’s Amantle Montsho, who failed a drug test in 2014 and is banned through the Rio Games.
“I just feel like I haven’t come anywhere close in the 400m. I haven’t given it a true try.”
At least Felix still has that opportunity in Rio.