Sprinter Allyson Felix said she decided to go for unprecedented double gold in the 200- and 400-meter events at the track and field world championships partly because she wanted to do something out of her comfort zone.
Aiming for growth rather than repetition is a laudable goal for an athlete who has accomplished so much by 25 years old. Felix had held the 200 world title since 2005, winning all three times she raced it at that level, but has twice finished second in the Olympics. She was open about her concern that the 400 would drain her legs and jeopardize her success in the event she calls her "baby."
Felix emerged from the experiment with silver (400) and bronze (200) medals and an interesting set of decisions to make over the next year. She asked for discomfort and she got it. She and her coach, Bobby Kersee, also wanted information that would be useful in deciding how to approach the road to London, and they got that, too.
Felix closed beautifully in a personal best time of 49.59 seconds in the 400, but lost to Botswana's Amantle Montsho in a heartbreaking photo finish. If the finish line had been a half-stride further away, Felix would be a world champion in an event in which she never dreamed she'd excel.
After two days of icing her legs, Felix took on the 200 heats and finished second in both. With typical candor, she told reporters she felt "sluggish" after the second round, and who wouldn't have after the physical and emotional wringer of the 400? Felix's slight build (5-foot-6, 125 pounds) gave her little margin for error in the six-day sprint marathon she had just completed.
When the camera panned to Felix in Lane 3 at Friday's 200 start, her long, streaming ponytail was bound into a tight bun and her eyes were as wide and intense as they get. A little more than 22 seconds after the starting gun echoed, she crossed the line in third place behind her Olympic nemesis, two-time gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, and newly crowned 100-meter champion Carmelita Jeter, who has to be more than content with her own sprint double.
Felix told reporters she was "disappointed and tired," but had no regrets about her bid to make history. "I thought I ran with a lot of heart tonight because that's all I had left," she said.
From the little bit I learned about her character in reporting this profile, I know Felix is utterly dissatisfied by anything but victory. Whatever she said publicly, she expected and envisioned two wins and will go to bed unhappy Friday night.
There's more than one way to slice what happened in Daegu, South Korea, and serve it up for London. Should Felix shift her focus to the 400, or give it up and put all her poker chips on that elusive gold in the 200? Or could she take what she learned at worlds and try to improve her performance in both events at the Olympics? Felix is fiercely competitive, but she is also a deliberate, contemplative person off the track, and I predict she'll give this a good deal of thought.
Felix still has two relays to run in South Korea and many more years to compete at the elite level. What she tried was brave in that she created a problem for herself -- a good problem to have, but a thorny one nonetheless.