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A Quick Silver for Felix

Teenager finishes behind Jamaica's Campbell in the 200 but breaks the world junior record. Three U.S. men reach the 200 final.

August 26, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Allyson Felix's learning curve will include learning how to run the curve on the 200. But the 18-year-old sprinter has come so far so fast, it seems no lesson is beyond her grasp.

Barely a year after her graduation from Los Angeles Baptist High, the youngest member of the U.S. track team earned a silver medal Wednesday in her first Olympic final. Though her strides were smooth and powerful, she couldn't erase the lead Jamaica's Veronica Campbell had built on the curve and she watched Campbell win the gold medal in a world-leading 22.05 seconds.

Felix was second in 22.18, breaking the world junior record of 22.19 set in 1980, and Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas finished third in 22.30. U.S. college standout Muna Lee of Baton Rouge, La., was a fatigued seventh, in 22.87.

"I'm pleased, but I'm a little disappointed I didn't win the gold," Felix said. "I had a good experience here. I couldn't ask for more.

"I've come a long way the past year. There's been a lot of ups and downs. I'm extremely happy."

So was her coach, Pat Connolly, who coached Evelyn Ashford to the 100-meter gold medal in 1984 and came out of retirement to guide Felix along the treacherous path of adolescent stardom. Connolly, a three-time track Olympian, preaches precision, patience and discipline, and Felix has been an avid learner.

Although she broke Marion Jones' U.S. junior record in the 200 in April 2003 and thought she'd set a world junior mark in Mexico City two months later only to learn international track authorities wouldn't recognize it because the meet hadn't had drug testing, she faded by the end of the summer. She struggled at the world championships in Paris and finished sixth in her semifinal.

"Last year, I had so many races," she said. "This year I felt so much fresher."

She also felt more mature. "Making the transition I did, you have to grow up real fast," she said of her decision to enroll at USC but turn pro and skip collegiate competition.

In Athens, primed by Connolly's grueling workouts, she was strong and confident.

"She's been able to make it through all the practices, and that's a hard thing," Connolly said after embracing Felix in the stands beneath the Olympic Stadium. "Through the cold and rain and the hills ahead. She's done everything I've asked. She couldn't be a better pupil."

She could, however, be a stronger starter, but Connolly believes that will come with age and growth. Felix is 5 feet 6 and, according to her biography, weighs 125 pounds, though her long legs make her appear far more slender.

"Look at Evelyn Ashford. It takes time for women to get strong and develop the kind of strength you need from the start," Connolly said.

Felix is among the youngsters who have, at least temporarily, dispersed the doping cloud that hangs over the sport. "They've passed the torch," Connolly said. "The question is, will they pass the baton?"

Felix wasn't among the four women nominated to the 400-meter relay, "but she'll be ready if needed," Connolly said. "Relays are very, very political."

The sprinter's medal was the 13th won by the U.S. track and field team -- three gold, six silver and four bronze. With several strong events to come, the team might equal the Sydney haul of 20 medals, even after losing several key competitors to injuries and others to the still-unfolding doping scandal.

The men's 200 is a likely source of more medals, with Shawn Crawford recording the best time of Wednesday's semifinals, 20.05, despite easing up in the final strides. Justin Gatlin, the 100-meter champion, won his heat in 20.35. Bernard Williams also advanced to today's final with a 20.18.

The trio declined to talk to reporters, but U.S. men's Coach George Williams said they looked "great" and all was fine after a "mix-up." That, he explained, centered on Crawford's wearing a cap and mugging for the crowd during a heat of the 100.

"I told him we don't do that on my watch," the coach said. "He's a wonderful kid and I want the world eyeing him that way. ... He got a little too hyped."

Williams also said the first round of the men's 400-meter relay will be run Friday by John Capel, Darvis Patton, Coby Miller and Maurice Greene.

"After that, we'll see how the young guns are after they've run eight rounds," Williams said, referring to Crawford and Gatlin.

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