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A critical side to Felix's 200 win

Her agent is unhappy with Richards, but her mother downplays adversarial approach.

September 01, 2007|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

OSAKA, Japan -- This was to be the season when Sanya Richards laid the groundwork to convince Olympic officials there should be a change in the 2008 Beijing Summer Games schedule so she could go after gold medals in the 200 and 400 meters. That double would be almost impossible under the current schedule.

Now, you can make a better case to change it for the benefit of USC's Allyson Felix.

"She could dominate both, if she wants to," said Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, winner of four Olympic silver medals in the sprints, after watching Felix crush Richards and everyone else in the World Championships 200-meter final Friday night.

Felix wants to, having realized coach Bob Kersee was right about her upside in the 400.

"I think I have matured as an athlete, and I can handle it now," said Felix, 21, a senior at USC.

Better, it seems, than her agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, is handling his feelings about Richards, who was a badly beaten fifth on Friday. Asked about the 200-400 Olympic double, Nehemiah started sniping at Richards for seeking and getting attention he feels Felix deserves more.

"You have to be careful what you ask for," Nehemiah said. "When you want to be on the [magazine] covers and all those things, you have to stay focused."

Not until he was well into his venting did Nehemiah point out that he lost Richards as a client after 2005, when her mother, Sharon, took over as the agent.

It was Felix's mother, Nehemiah said, who told him that her daughter was "miffed" over the acclaim Richards was receiving.

But Marlean Felix was not happy with what Nehemiah was saying.

"She is not about that," Marlean said of her daughter Allyson. "It would be childish to look at it that way. People want to think there is some kind of thing going on when there isn't."

The "thing" would be a Felix-Richards rivalry. Before Friday, it looked as if that would involve Richards' dropping down from the 400, in which she has the U.S. record, to take on Felix at 200.

The opposite seems true now.

Felix seems in command of the 200 and is going after Richards at 400. Felix won her second consecutive 200 world title with a time -- 21.81 seconds -- that is the world's fastest in eight years. It left Richards (22.70) appearing crushed physically and psychologically.

"I've been having a bunch of bad races this year, and it's getting discouraging," Richards said.

The worst came in the 400 at the U.S. championships, where Richards' failure to make the top three not only ended her 18-race win streak but cost her a world championship spot in the event.

Felix did not run the 400 at nationals, where she won the 200. She lost her first 400 confrontation with Richards by a substantial margin Aug. 3 in London but came back for more. Felix said by the time their bus arrived back at the hotel, she knew what to do.

"I waited for Bobby to get off the bus and told him, 'I want to do it again,' " Felix said, referring to her coach. "I messed up in London, and we had worked so hard in the 400, I didn't want that to be the last one."

It wasn't. Four days later in Stockholm, Felix took on another 400. The result? She ran a personal best 49.70 to beat Richards by two-hundredths of a second.

Running the 400, Felix said, had nothing to do with stealing the spotlight from Richards.

"I don't really do it for the attention," she said. "It's more for the challenge."

--

Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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