The big news recently is that the Rio schedule has been altered to allow for a 200/400 double for the women. The 1st rounds of the 200 & 400H were flip flopped – the hurdles moving to the evening, the 200 to the morning. Now, instead of the 200 opening rounds being just over an hour before the 400 final, Allyson Felix (or anyone else) will have all day to recover from the 200 before running that 400 final – making this a very doable double now.
Great news for fans of the sport who have too often been denied watching great sprinters perform both events in major championships. That’s why we didn’t get to see what Tommie Smith (200 gold) could have done against Lee Evans (400 gold) back in ’68. Or Henry Carr (200 gold) against Mike Larrabee (400 gold in ’64).
We finally got a long sprint double in 1984, when Valerie Brisco pulled it off in with a sizzling 21.83/48.83 performance – both Olympic records. Perhaps the most impressive long sprint double in Olympic history, given that her toughest competition was in the 400 where both she and Chandra Cheeseboro had been trading the American record back and forth over the season, and both PR’d in the Olympic final! Brisco also PR’d in the deuce and ran on the winning 4×4 – an overall performance overshadowed only by Carl Lewis’ quadruple gold medal winning duplication of Jesse Owens.
We had to wait until 1996 to see the double attempted again when Michael Johnson made the appeal for a schedule change to allow the 200/400 combo. The result was a pair of gold medal doubles by Johnson and Maree Jose Perec. Their path to double gold being a bit different than Brisco in that both sprinters really had no peer over 400 and were dominating the competition at that point in their careers. The tougher competition for them was in the 200 where both had chief rivals that had proven their ability to win the deuce – Johnson (Frank Fredericks), Perec (Merlene Ottey). Ottey was a known quantity in both the 100 & 200, having won medals at majors, and possessing a PR of 21.77. Frankly, she was the favorite in the event heading into Atlanta. Frank Fredericks was also a known quantity in the short sprints, was World Champion in 1993 in the deuce, and had won head to head against Johnson in Oslo in early ’96 blitzing a stunning 19.83 on a "slow" track. Johnson and Perec pulled off their doubles by dominating the 400, then coming back to turn back these 200 stars in the Olympic final – Johnson setting an astonishing WR 19.32 that lasted until 2009!
The 200/400 is a rarity, but when it happens awesome things seem to happen! This year should be no exception as the women’s field in the 200 got very deep in 2015, and the 400 field should be better in this Olympic season! Where does Felix sit in all this?
Well, Allyson enters 2016 as the reigning Olympic Champion in the 200, and with three World Championships wins in the event. She is more of a "novice" in the 400, yet won a silver in the 2011 World Championships and gold last year in Beijing! I teasingly say novice because she runs the event rather infrequently, but she’s been the main cog in the 4×4 since 2008, and last year screamed a 47.9 split to become one of the fastest of all time. Despite her credentials however, the double will not be a cake walk.
Felix’ 400 victory in Beijing looked easy last year, as she ran what I consider to be a textbook race to dominate the field. But several women were not healthy/ready in 2015. Most notably Sanya Richards Ross, Christine Ohuruogu, and Amantle Montsho – a trio of women with championship credentials. Also, the world leader heading into US Nationals, Francena McCorory inexplicably had a horrible final after running sub 50 in her semi. I doubt that all of these women will run poorly at the same time again in 2016! After all, Felix, Montsho, Ohuruogu and McCorory are the four fastest women in the world during this current Olympic cycle (2013 – 2016)!
That said, I’ve been waiting most of Felix’ career to see her put an emphasis on this event. Like Michael Johnson, Felix’ relay legs over the years indicate that THIS could be her best event – which says a lot given that she boasts sprint bests of 10.89 and 21.69! Her routine 48 second relay splits, highlighted by a stunning 47.9 in Beijing, however says she can potentially be the best ever over the longer distance – a la Johnson when he began to focus on the quarter. The bottom line in the 400 for my money is this. If Felix enters Rio in the same or better shape as did Beijing, she owns the 400! No one else has shown an ability to run nearly as fast – even American Record holder Richards Ross (48.70). A mark that I expect to fall to Felix in Rio.
That brings us to what could be one of the most anticipated events in Rio – the women’s 200 meters! Felix should start the second round of this event as Olympic Champion in the 400 (the opening round taking place in the morning session before the 400 final that night). Making for the drama of "can she double". That double, a foregone conclusion in 2014, changed dramatically in 2015 with the emergence of several new faces. Chief among them Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson who ran 21.63 & 21.66 for gold and silver in the Moscow final! Never before have three women with 21.6x PR’s faced off in a major final! We did get a preview in Brussels – post World Championships – where Schippers won over Felix and Thompson (22.12/22.22/22.26). A good race, but clearly all three were tired from Beijing. All will be peaking to perform their best bests in Rio just as they did in last summer.
Adding to the drama will be several up and coming young stars, the best being Candyce McGrone (22.01), Dina Asher Smith (22.07) and Myriam Soumare (22.11). Finally there are a trio of veterans that I think will be heard this year – Veronica Campbell Brown (21.74), Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce (22.09), and Tori Bowie (22.18). Campbell Brown is a two time Olympic Champion in the event (winning over Felix both times). Fraser Pryce is a former World Champion in the event (a final in which Felix went down to injury). Bowie could actually fit the roll of "up and coming youngster" at 24 years of age, but she’s competed like a veteran clocking a 10.80 PR in the 100, and winning bronze in Beijing (10.88). And personally I think she has lots more to give in the deuce.
The bottom line is this, Felix could face a 200 meter field in Rio that may be the deepest that any competitor in history has run against – male or female – as the second half of her sprint double! If you had asked me my thoughts before Beijing I would have told you that she should be able to handily take care of the field – her 400 meter strength being the difference. Post Beijing? I still like her chances, but it’s not going to be easy. Especially after watching a) Thompson’s turn in Beijing, and b) that beat down Schippers put on the race in the second half in China! The women have stepped up their game in this event and it could, no should, take something around 21.4/21.5 to win this. Can Felix run that fast?
I’ve thought so for some time, but more so in seasons when she has doubled in the 100/200. As the speed of the 100 seems to compliment her 200 running more than the 400 does. Although Felix ran 21.98 early last year in her preparation to win gold at Worlds over 400. Of course, one thing she has in her favor is coach Bobby Kersee – the man that has guided her career and also lead Valerie Brisco to her 200/400 double. Kersee knows Allyson, knows the double, and knows how to prepare her for the major championships. Kersee, in my opinion, is her ace in the hole. That, and the fact that I think she will be ready to run sub 48.50 in the 400 (dare I say sub 48.00) is why I think Felix will pull off the double – under 21.60.
I may have to change that as the season goes along, because a lot can happen between now and August. Healthy however, Allyson has proven to be one of the best of all time, and one of the best competitors in big meets. At 30, she’s in her prime. And as I stated above, I think she has the best coach. If nothing else, I expect this to be THE hottest final in track and field in Rio. Allyson Felix vs the Field as she attempts to close out the double! At the end of the day THIS is what the sport is about.