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Golden Hopes, Bronze Reality

Felix, 17, is third in 200 at Pan Am Games in 22.93, well off her fastest time in the event.

August 09, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — She has an angelic smile, wings on her feet and seemingly, at 17, a clear track to greatness.

Wherever she goes, sprinter Allyson Felix of Santa Clarita hears herself described as a phenom, hears herself compared to track superstar Marion Jones.

Such great expectations at such a young age, however, can be a heavy burden to carry, especially for someone whose chances for victory depend on hundredths of a second.

But Felix wouldn't blame the weight of those expectations for her third-place finish Friday night in the finals of the 200-meter dash in Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Stadium at the XIV Pan American Games.

Felix came in at 22.93 seconds to win a bronze medal, trailing Roxana Diaz (22.69) of Cuba and Cydonie Mothersille (22.86) of Cayman Islands.

"I was not too good," Felix said. "I did my best."

While calling her start "decent," she wouldn't offer an opinion on her failure to finish higher.

"I have to go back and look at the tape," she said. "Whenever you lose, you can't let it get to you. You have to move on to the next race."

Asked if the track surface was good, she replied, "Not for me."

While her performance might be disappointing, the expectations were understandable. Felix has the fastest 200 time in the world this season, a 22.11 at the Banamex Grand Prix in Mexico City in May.

She set a world junior record, bettering the previous mark of 22.19 set by Russian Natalya Bochina in 1980.

As would expected of someone so young, Felix has risen quickly. In junior high, her involvement in the sport consisted of running once a week on track and field day.

Upon arriving at L.A. Baptist High in North Hills, she tried out for the sprint team wearing a pair of Gary Payton basketball shoes.

No matter. When she whizzed around the track, Coach Jonathan Patton did a double take at his stopwatch.

One minute, it seemed, Felix was asking Jones for her autograph and the next, she was breaking Jones' records.

At the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April, Felix crossed the finish line in 22.51, breaking Jones' U.S. junior record which had stood for 11 years.

Felix also was second in the 2003 USA Indoor Championships, setting a national high-school indoor record of 23.14. As good as Felix has been, however, Joe Douglas, who runs the Santa Monica Track Club and coached Olympic great Carl Lewis, would like to see the expectations tempered.

"Many people excel at very young ages but don't excel later at the Olympic and world level," Douglas said. "There are always exceptions, of course. You could point to a Mary Decker or a Sebastian Coe. But the majority who excel young don't excel later on."

However, Douglas likes what he has seen of Felix.

"She appears to be able to handle everything that has come her way," he said. "But that has to continue. She cannot allow herself to be distracted by the other pleasures of life. You can't be 80% and win in the sprint. You're talking about hundredths of a second."

Felix likes to visualize a race before she steps into the starting blocks. And she acknowledged, before Friday's race, that she has visualized herself winning Olympic gold, a vision she couldn't help but be reminded of when she stepped on the track Friday night. On the rim of the stadium, standing out vividly in the growing darkness, was the torch for these Games.

It wasn't an Olympic torch. And there wasn't gold at the end of the road for Felix.

Not this time.

But at 17, she has plenty of time.

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