Felix lays groundwork for Olympic year

As the reigning World Champion in the 200 meters, Allyson Felix has a bye into the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August. She's using that opportunity to explore the 400 meters, including this victory over Sanya Richards-Ross at the Prefontaine Classic. (TrackTown photo by Phil Johnson)

EUGENE, Ore. – Despite her status as the most decorated female sprinter in U.S. history, Allyson Felix is still fine-tuning as she rounds the turn heading toward her 30th birthday later this year.

She recently embraced a “clean eating’’ diet and commissioned Chris Talley of Precision Food Works

in Los Angeles to deliver meals prepared specifically for her athletic needs. That meant she had to say goodbye to such guilty pleasures as Cheetos and powdered sugar donuts.

“Those are not in the plan,’’ she said, a little wistfully. “I love to snack. I’ll have ice cream, in moderation. This is the first year I started taking nutrition seriously. I’ve been able to train harder and recover faster.’’

It’s working. Felix opened up in the 200 meters at the Doha Diamond League meeting on May 15 and surprised herself with her fastest furlong since 2012 with a world-leading 21.98 seconds. She ran her first 400 of the season at the Prefontaine Classic two weeks later, turning in a time of 50.05, but more important, turning back 2012 Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, a well-beaten second in 50.29.

In contrast to her Olympic debut in 2004, when she ran straight off the track instead of taking a victory lap for earning the silver medal in the 200m, Felix took a long, slow tour of the Hayward Field track, signing autographs and otherwise interacting with fans. (Felix said her mother was very unhappy that her daughter did not take a victory lap at Athens in 2004 but such was her naiveté as an 18-year-old.)

“It’s important to me just to appreciate the people that come to support us,’’ she said. “It’s definitely special. I love coming here. I love the fans – they’re so knowledgeable. There’s so much history here. I always want to have a good performance.’’

Allyson Felix waves to the crowd at a sold-out Hayward Field after winning the 400 meters at the Prefontaine Classic last month. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

Allyson Felix waves to the crowd at a sold-out Hayward Field prior to winning the 400 meters at the Prefontaine Classic last month. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

As for her Pre 400 win, Felix said, “It felt good. It was my first 400 of the year, so I really wanted to see where I was and what needs to be worked on. I’ve focused on the 200 for so long, I just wanted to explore the 400 and see where I can go.’’

Because she is the 2014 Diamond League winner in the 200m, Felix has a bye into the 2015 IAAF World Championships in her signature event, so she’ll do some more exploring this season in the 400, where her most noteworthy result was a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in a PR of 49.59.

At 29, Felix is at the zenith of her career as an elite sprinter, having won 16 medals in Olympic and World Championship competition, 12 of them gold. She recovered nicely from the hamstring injury that felled her at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow and even with another World Championships looming, she’s also allowing herself a peek over the horizon a bit at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. And then the 2017 World Championships after that.

“It’s going well. I feel my training is good. It’s good to feel healthy,’’ she said. “Things are going in the right direction. I want to progress as the World Championships approach. Rio is always in the back of my head. It’s definitely building toward Rio. You have to have a foundation. Starting off strong this year is a testament to being able to train healthy.’’

Like many elite athletes, Felix believes that to have success in an Olympic year, it’s vital to lay down a good season the year before. She’s off to a good start in that regard in a season that will culminate domestically at the USA Outdoor Championships, June 25-28, at Hayward Field.

In her most recent race at the Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, England, Felix and American Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a dead heat in the 200 meters at 22.29, although Tarmoh was awarded the victory several minutes later.

“You want some momentum,’’ Felix said. “You want to feel healthy and take advantage of the full training year. That base definitely helps you. This year I want to run more 400’s. I always knew I had potential in the 400. Depending on how my season goes, I did (the 400) in 2011 (winning silver at the Worlds). I’d like to have another attempt at it.’’

However, a 200-400 double is not possible this year at the IAA World Championships in Beijing. Felix will not have an opportunity to do at the Worlds what France’s Marie-Jose Perec did at the 1996 Olympics or what American Valerie Brisco-Hooks did at the 1984 Olympics and win gold medals in both long sprints.

Allyson Felix gets ready to compete in the 400 meters at the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field last month. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

Allyson Felix gets ready to compete in the 400 meters at the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field last month. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

“That’s not an option,’’ Felix said. “An hour before the 400 final there’s the 200 semifinals, so no.’’

That’s a shame, since Felix has elite ability in both events. She’s run sub-50-second times four times in her career in different years. Consider that in 2014, a non-championship year, only two women ran sub-50 times, compatriots Francena McCorory (49.48) and Richards-Ross (49.66). Felix ran one 400 a year ago in 50.81.

“For me, it’s my first one in over a year,’’ Felix said of her one-lapper at Pre. “It’s about seeing where I’m at, what I need to work on. I love the 200 and I always will. I definitely want to run fast in the 200. I’m definitely not leaving it. I just want to explore the 400 more.’’

The Pre 400 showed the results of the speed-endurance training Felix does under coach John Smith in Los Angeles. She weathered a challenge from Richards-Ross on the backstretch and used her superior 200 speed to keep her rival at bay as the two drove toward the finish. Novlene Williams-Mills, the Jamaican who ranked No. 1 in the world in 2014, was never a factor in the race as she finished sixth in 51.89.

“When you’re running really fast and when it’s clicking, it doesn’t feel hard,’’ Felix said. “They’re few and far between. The effort doesn’t feel like much. It’s great when it works like that.’’

For the way in which she bested a field that included five women ranked in the top 10 in the world last year – Richards-Ross, Williams-Mills, Stephanie Ann McPherson of Jamaica, Natasha Hastings of the U.S. and Libania Grenot of Italy – the Felix of old might have treated herself to a powdered sugar donut.

The new Felix probably went with something along the lines of kale and quinoa. After all, it’s working.


Previous TTUSA stories by John Crumpacker:

Jager hopes to lower U.S. record in steeplechase

Best still to come for U.S. triple jumper

Olympian inspired by motherhood

John Crumpacker was a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for more than three decades. In that time he won seven national writing awards and covered 10 Olympic Games. He was president of the Track & Field Writers of America on two occasions.