The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Daegu 2011 – The Felix Double

Sep 7th, 2011
5:15 am PST

One of the big news items heading into this year’s World Championships was the attempt by Allyson Felix to become the first woman to win a 200/400 sprint double at Worlds. The feat had been accomplished twice previously in the Olympics – by Valerie Brisco in 1984 and by Marie Jose Perec in 1996. But, as I outlined in a previous post, the others may have had a slightly easier time than Felix, as this year’s 200 field was potentially imagestronger than either Brisco or Perec had to face. It also didn’t help that the 400 field became infinitely stronger as Daegu drew near.

Still I feel that Felix is capable of pulling the double off – in spite of the fact that I predicted that she would finish with silver & bronze in Daegu, which is exactly where she finished. So why did I feel that she wouldn’t pull it off this time around? Speed. The one thing that I saw lacking in Allyson this year was, speed. Sounds like a contradiction for someone who advocated for Felix being on the 4×1, but while I felt she had the best combination of speed and power to run that backstretch on the 4×1, I also felt that her lack of turnover was going to hinder her in her quest for the double.

You see, when you look historically at the best combination sprinters, the common denominator is that they were sprinters first – as in all had great turnover. Look at the numbers of the following – especially the women:

 

Tommie Smith 10.1 19.8 44.5
Steve Williams 9.9 19.8 44.8
Michael Johnson 10.09 19.32 43.18
       
Marita Koch 10.83 21.71 47.60
Barbel Wockel 10.95 21.85 49.56
Irina Privalova 10.77 21.87 49.89
Valerie Brisco 10.99 21.81 48.83
Chandra Cheeseborough 11.13 21.99 49.05
Gwen Torrence 10.82 21.72 49.64
Marion Jones 10.65 21.62 49.59

 

You see, the issue with the 200/400 double is that the 200 is more a pure sprint, than it is a “strength” or “endurance” sprint. So turnover is still at a premium, because this race is generally decided within the first 100 meters! Very few “loping” sprinters – a la Marie Jose Perec- are successful in the 200 portion of the double. Perec was fortunate in that the 200 was “down” in ’96 – Ottey aging, Torrence only in the 100, and Privalova out. Had Perec attempted the double in ’95 she was no better than perhaps bronze at best.

In contrast Felix had to face her chief rival, Veronica Campbell Brown, a rapidly improving Carmelita Jeter, and a threatening Shalonda Solomon – all of whom have tremendous turnover! Felix needed all the speed she could get on the bend of that deuce, and just didn’t have it. She also needed a “passing gear” in the stretch of that 400. She was strong enough to get to Montsho’s shoulder – she just didn’t have a move to go by her – something that all of the above combo sprinters had in abundance! It’s also something that Felix used to have. Because while it sounds like I’m talking about someone who lacks speed, Felix actually has a 100 PR of 10.93. And prior to this year, the three seasons in which she has previously broken 50.00 in the 400 also saw her around the 11.00 mark in the 100 – and under 22.00 for 200:

 

2009 11.08 21.88 49.83
2008 10.93 21.93 49.83
2007 11.01 21.81 49.70

 

That’s why I found it very interesting that she seemed to abandon the 100 this year in favor of becoming “stronger” for the 400. Yet her best successes in both the deuce and the quarter have come while running well in the 100. And if it ain’t broke don’t fix, that’s my motto – especially when it’s in line with what has worked for history’s best performers.

As a matter of fact, the East Germans took sprinting to a new art back in the 80’s by having ALL of their female sprinters run everything from the 100 through the 400! From Koch and Wockel in the 80’s (see chart above) to Grit Breuer (11.13, 22.45, 49.42) and Katrin Krabbe (10.89, 21.95, 49.8r Tokyo) in the 90’s and the end of the East German team. That philosophy was adopted with great success by Evelyn Ashford as she successfully worked to beat the East German “Superwomen”. It was subsequently part of the philosophy of Gwen Torrence, and Marion Jones (see chart) and a core part of their success.

It’s getting back to that sort of philosophy that I believe will get Allyson Felix to the top of the podium in her quest at the 200/400 double in London. It’s that 10.9x turnover that will get her by her 400 foes in the stretch, AND make her competitive around the bend in the deuce. So my suggestion to Ms. Felix and Mr. Kersee, is to incorporate a bit more speed work into both her workouts, and her competition schedule in 2012. Because she is capable of running as fast, if not faster, that Valerie Brisco over both 200 & 400 – and bringing home double gold!

Next up is the Zurich leg of the Diamond League. So I’ll take a look at some of the key matchup there. But will resume looking at Daegu next week.

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