Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Allyson Felix - Double Trouble


Last year Allyson Felix was undefeated – in two events! She won the Diamond League series in both the 200 and 400 meters – setting herself up for a potential run at a double in 2011. Since the end of 2010 the most oft question asked of Ms. Felix has been: are you going to double in Daegu?

Of course, Felix has been playing it close to the vest and has not yet committed to whether she will attempt to double or not. But she does have the opportunity to do so as she won the 400 at the U.S. Trials for Daegu, and has the bye in the 200 as defending champion – opening up several options. With that under her belt she is almost guaranteed a spot on the 4x4 team at Worlds. Having also run the 4x1 in several international situations, she will almost certainly be given a spot on that squad as well.

So the question is: just how much work does Felix want to undertake in South Korea, and what are her chances of success? While we’re waiting for the official word from the Felix camp, I thought I would take my own look at the 200/400 double from her perspective.

We have seen the double completed before. Valerie Brisco (US) won the double in Los Angeles (‘84) with times of 21.81/48.83 – both Olympic records at the time. Michael Johnson (US) won the double at the ‘95 Worlds in Goteborg in 19.79/43.39 – the deuce a World Championships record. And in 1996 both Johnson and Marie Jose Perec (FRA) won doubles in 19.32/43.49 and 22.12/48.25 respectively – Johnson’s deuce a WR & his quarter an Olympic record, while Perec’s 400 was an Olympic record. Pretty good running when it’s been done!

So, how would an attempt by Felix compare to those of Brisco, Johnson and Perec? Well, for starters, neither of the others had short relay duty, though they all ran on their respective 4x4’s. Johnson, however, while running the 4x4 in ‘95 had to withdraw in ‘96 due to the strain on his body from his double – most specifically the 200 portion of the double. If Felix is indeed scheduled for both relays, that would make her workload a bit more daunting that the previous doublers – though only AFTER the double itself has been completed.

So, how would the actual double itself compare? During the first half of the double, the 400, Johnson and Perec were clearly superior to their competition. Brisco, on the other hand had to contend with Chandra Cheeseborough whom she had been trading the American record with in ‘84 – each breaking the record twice. Cheeseborough was the record holder going into the final, Brisco the record holder coming out, though Cheeseborough also finished under her previous record. So Brisco definitely had the rougher first half of the double.

All three previous doublers had at least one serious protagonist in the second half of their doubles – the 200. In ‘84 Brisco had to face Florence Griffith, Merlene Ottey and Kathy Smallwood – all with the potential to beat her. In ‘95 and ‘96 Johnson had to face Frankie Fredericks – one of the few men to defeat him at the distance during his career. And in ‘96 Perec also had to go up against Merlene Ottey – near the end of her career.

So, ranking them on competitive difficulty Brisco had the tougher double, with Johnson in the middle and Perec arguably the easier path to victory.

Comparing Felix’ chances, in the 400 she would benefit from what appears to be a very down season for Sanya Richards – who to this point is a shell of the woman that was silver in ‘05, bronze in ‘08 and gold in ‘09. Based on current form, Felix’ stiffest competition should come from Novlene Williams Mills and Amantle Montsho – PR’s of 49.63 & 49.83 respectively. With a best of 49.70, a seasons best of 49.81 and having a history of relay legs in the neighborhood of 49.0, Felix goes into Daegu arguably in about the same position as Valerie Brisco – just slightly behind the best of her competition, but extremely competitive.

It’s the 200 where the comparison gets a bit more dicey for Felix. Whereas the others had perhaps a single true threat, Felix faces up to four. Veronica Campbell Brown is Felix’ chief rival in this event and was the winner of the Jamaican Trials. Felix has defeated her twice in World Championships competition but also lost to her twice in Olympic finals. Kerron Stewart finished just behind Felix in the ‘08 final in Beijing and will be on this year’s Jamaican squad. Then there is Carmelita Jeter, winner of the U.S. Trials 100 and surprise runner up in the 200. Jeter’s strength seems to be improving with each race and she will be what I call an “X” factor in Daegu. We really don’t know what her potential is, but with a 100 PR of 10.63 and season’s best of 10.70 she almost has to be able to get under 22.00 (current best of 22.23). Finally there is U.S. Trials winner Shalonda Solomon, currently the world leader at 22.15 and also seemingly with the potential for a sub 22.00 run. PR wise however, only Campbell Brown (21.74) has a faster best than Felix’ 21.81. Still with Stewart having a best of 21.99 and Jeter and Solomon seemingly capable of matching that or better. Felix definitely has the tougher 200 match than the doublers that preceded her.

So where does that leave Felix? Well she’s as tough a competitor as Brisco, Johnson and Perec. She has three straight World 200 titles, and some sterling relay legs that say so. She’s the only person in history to win U.S. titles at 100, 200 and 400 meters – all of which take a different sort of mental strength to achieve. And she’s already proven that she can defeat the world’s best over both 200 & 400 meters. The key for Felix will be how well she handles the rounds of the 400, and the condition and mental strength of her competition in the 200 – because Campbell Brown, Jeter and Stewart will be on the second half of sprint doubles of their own!

With all that said, what will she and coach Kersee decide to do? I’m not sure. The “X” factor in the Felix decision process could be the fact that the deuce is her favorite event, and she does have the opportunity for a World Championships four peat there – something we’ve not seen yet in any of the women’s events. So I can’t say how that shot at history may affect their thinking or planning. Of course, while the double has been accomplished twice by women in the Olympics, it has yet to be done at Worlds. So there is the potential for that precedence. Six of one, half a dozen of the other?

At the end of the day, I would suggest that she go through with it. She’s capable, in my humble opinion, and to do so would give her TRIPLE history – first woman to do the double; first one with four straight world titles in the same event; first woman with four golds in the same Worlds – assuming we can pull off the relay double – and it’s not every day you get a chance at becoming the female version of Jesse/Carl! Not to mention that it would make her the greatest of the long sprint doublers! Besides, chances to make history don’t come along every day.

Carpe Diem Allyson!

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