Their run of the place
Her loss in the Olympic 200-meter final was not surprising if you looked at it dispassionately, not after the ups and downs Allyson Felix had all season. She accepted the silver medal Thursday night with her customary graciousness, saying that being unhappy over a prize so few people have would make her ungrateful.
It was tearing Felix up inside. “For two days after we got done crying after the race, she didn’t talk to me,” said her coach, Bob Kersee.
He sent text messages. Felix responded with only two words: “I’m OK.”
“I was heartbroken,” Felix acknowledged Saturday night after winning a gold medal by running the second leg of a 1,600-meter relay that ended with Sanya Richards’ dramatic rally on the anchor to beat Russia by a stride for the gold medal at Olympic National Stadium.
The men’s 1,600 relay team followed with a victory over the Bahamas by nearly three seconds, no surprise since the U.S. team included the 1-2-3 finishers in the open 400 -- LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner and David Neville -- plus 400 hurdles champion Angelo Taylor. Their time -- 2 minutes 55.39 seconds -- was an Olympic record and second-fastest ever.
Felix had wanted to win the 200 gold badly since finishing second as an 18-year-old to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown at the 2004 Olympics. She had beaten Campbell-Brown resoundingly at the 2007 worlds, gone on to run two excellent relay legs and become the face of U.S. women’s track and field heading into the Olympic year.
But her 2008 season had been all loose ends, for a lot of little reasons and no big ones.
There was the funeral of her boyfriend’s father and then her graduation from USC, all in one week. After the U.S. Olympic trials, she traveled back and forth twice, from Santa Clarita to Europe, squeezing in a maid-of-honor role in a friend’s wedding between meets on the Grand Prix circuit.
Felix ran poorly in Europe and thought it was because of all the travel. She thought she would get to China and be over the fatigue, that somehow she could pull it all together. It didn’t happen, as Felix ran slower than she had at the 2007 worlds while the Jamaican had a personal best.
“To work for four years and be beaten by the same person, it felt like there wasn’t much improvement,” Felix said. “I know I’ve grown a lot, I know I’ve matured, but there was really nothing to show for that.”
It would get worse 90 minutes later Thursday, when Lauryn Williams dropped the baton on the final leg of the 400-meter relay preliminaries. Felix was going to run with that relay in the final.
“I was still grieving my 200,” Felix said with a laugh, “and then it seemed like nothing was really going our way. To be able to have a second chance, to be able to come together with these girls was great.”
Richards felt the same way about her disappointing bronze-medal performance in the 400, and U.S. Olympic women’s Coach Jeanette Bolden of UCLA sensed all her athletes were thinking the meet had been a bummer.
So Bolden called the relay team together at 4 p.m. Saturday, about five hours before their race, to remind Felix and Richards and Mary Wineberg and one of her former collegiate runners, Monique Henderson, how well the U.S. women actually were doing, how they already had won more medals than at any Olympics since 1992.
“They had no idea,” Bolden said, “but when I told them and they left the meeting at 5 p.m., they could have run right then.”
In his final text message, Kersee told Felix: “If we’re in front, keep us in front. If not, get us in front.”
Felix was third, 0.62 of a second behind Russia, when she got the baton from Wineberg. She turned it over to Henderson with a lead of 0.25 of a second by running the fastest leg, 48.55 seconds, of anyone in the relay final.
But the Russians pulled ahead again, by 0.61 (about five meters), when Richards began the anchor leg.
She pulled close to Russian anchor Anastasia Kapachinskaya almost immediately, then dropped a couple of steps back. Her coach, Clyde Hart, had told Richards to wait until she was sure of being able to carry a move all the way to the finish. “It’s so much easier to be the chaser than the chased,” Richards said. “I was having fun.”
Richards made the move with 120 meters to go, sure she could sustain it, unsure if it would be enough to beat the Russian, whom she finally passed with 30 meters to go.
“When I saw it was going to happen, I was really excited,” Richards said. She showed it by pumping the baton at the finish, having run the anchor in 48.93. The overall winning time was 3:18.54 to 3:18.82 for Russia, with Jamaica third at 3:20:40. Richards and Henderson also had won 1,600 relay golds in 2004.
“Everyone had their individual disappointments, but we were still able to come together as a team,” Felix said.
One of the disappointed was 400-meter silver medalist Wariner, whose 43.18 anchor was fastest among the men.
“I don’t use things as redemption,” Wariner said. “I’m not out there as an individual, I’m out there with three other guys going to run their hearts out. I pushed aside what happened in the open 400.”
Bernard Lagat, reigning world champion in the 1,500 and the 5,000, could not redeem himself in Saturday’s longer race after failing to make the final of the 1,500. After winning medals for Kenya in 2000 and 2004, Lagat’s first Olympics as a U.S. citizen were a washout when he finished ninth in the 5,000 final.
Lagat said after the 5,000 that he had a virus after mentioning a sore Achilles’ tendon following the 1,500.
“I knew I was not ready,” Lagat said. “Before this race, I was having nightmares.”
Lagat was a close fifth when Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele pushed the pace with three laps to go, but the U.S. runner lost seven seconds in the next lap and wound up nearly 30 seconds behind Bekele’s Olympic-record time of 12:57.82.
Bekele became the first man to win both the 5,000 and 10,000 since countryman Miruts Yifter in 1980.
Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.
TRACK AND FIELD
*--* Medal winners G: United States Time: 2:55.39 S: Bahamas Time: 2:58.03 B: Russia Time: 2:58.06 *--*
TRACK AND FIELD
*--* Medal winners G: United States Time: 3:18.54 S: Russia Time: 3:18.82 B: Jamaica Time: 3:20.40 *--*