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By Bonnie D. Ford
Allyson Felix will never feel as if she has run a perfect race, but, on the last day of June, under overcast skies at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., she came close. Felix powered through the curve in the 200-meter final, her signature event, overtaking her rivals in what is normally the weakest part of her race. By the time Felix hit the top of the straightaway, she was alone and it was all over. Her stride opened up. In full flight, she looked almost relaxed.
Watch how Allyson Felix keeps her edge
Felix is often restrained in celebration, but not this night. She hit the finish line smiling. She clapped, hopped up and down, turned and gave a little fist pump toward the stands. Her ledger in the event is practically unparalleled — Felix, 26, is a two-time Olympic silver medalist and three-time world champion in the 200 — yet she had never run it as fast as she just had, in 21.69 seconds.
It was a remarkable performance not only because of the time Felix clocked and because the woman who finished second, 2011 world championship silver medalist Carmelita Jeter, had also run a personal best. The race came after months of flux that began this past August, when Felix, depleted from racing the 400 at worlds, was dethroned in the 200 and finished a listless third. It came after a spring of ups and downs in which Felix settled on attempting a different double, the 100/200, the one nobody expected.
And it came after a maddening weeklong waiting game triggered when Felix and training partner Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a dead heat for third in the 100 only to discover that U.S. track officials had no process in place to decide who should be selected for the Olympics.
Uncertainty still hovered over Felix and Tarmoh when they crouched in the blocks for the 200. Two days later, Tarmoh would controversially withdraw from the runoff proposed as a solution for the 100. But Felix, who has a knack for maintaining serenity in the vortex and who was well-sheltered by her advisers, had a clear mind before the gun went off.
Don't blame Tarmoh for no runoff
Everything she has done since last summer — returning to speed-based training, trying to refine her starts, rejecting the 200/400 double many assumed was the path of least resistance to Olympic medals — has been geared toward running the most flawless race possible, not in Eugene but in London.
The image that propels her is from four years ago in Beijing. A gap of 0.19 seconds, the difference between gold and silver, yawns chasmlike in her mind. Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown is on the other side of that abyss, just as she was in Athens. Again and again in freeze-frame, Felix sees her rival lean into the finish and spread her arms with joy.
"I feel like I can't escape it," Felix said, perched on a couch in a hotel lobby in Philadelphia this past April, a day after helping the U.S. women sweep two races in the Penn Relays. "I'm always thinking about that race, thinking about that final. So hopefully everything goes well up until then. "I definitely go back to that moment of getting second all the time. I don't think I ever really got over it. I think that I don't want to."
Keep reading for more on Allyson Felix's road to the 2012 Olympics.