EUGENE, Ore. – Pain? What pain?
“I feel like my adrenaline just took over,” said Allyson Felix, who refused to let a severe ankle sprain keep her from achieving the first half of her attempted double at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field.
Felix won the 400 meters Sunday with a world-leading time of 49.68 seconds to make her fourth straight Olympic team going back to 2004. She will start the three rounds of the 200 meters, the event in which she is defending Olympic champion, on Friday.
Felix, 30, was in fourth place on the straightaway, then shifted into gear as if she were running a 100 – like she did for her 2012 Olympic double – not completing a full lap.
Although Rio 2016 will mark Felix’s first foray in the individual 400 at an Olympic Games, she is the reigning world champion and has won two Olympic gold medals on the 4 x 400-meter relay.
Phyllis Francis ran a lifetime best of 49.94 to place second and make her first Olympic team while Natasha Hastings, a 2008 gold medalist on the 4x400-meter relay, made her first Olympic individual event by running 50.07.
Crossing the finish line, Felix gave thanks.
“I think I was just like, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” she said. “It’s been a tough year and it was a relief. I have put in so much work and to see it all come together when two month ago I was barely walking…to be at this moment is pretty unbelievable.”
She credited her physical therapist, chiropractor and massage therapist for putting her back together and said she put her trust in coach Bob Kersee.
“Bobby believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Felix said.
She was primed for a brilliant season when disaster struck.
In April, Felix was working at the gym with a medicine ball. On her landing, her right ankle collapsed.
“My first thought was, “I can’t believe this is happening,’” she said. “It seemed liked everything was over. Bobby stepped in, put everything in perspective and came up with a game plan and started to work.”
Kersee’s wife, Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee, also helped. After the accident, Felix said, “They didn’t let me go home alone. They had me icing every 20 minutes and they were constantly with me.”
The three weeks before Trials, Kersee took Felix to the U.S. Olympic Training Center to get away. But still, she said she didn’t go into Historic Hayward Field with the same mindset as she did in her previous three Olympic Trials.
“I’ve always felt really prepared when I came to Trials and super confident,” said Felix, who was just 18 the first time she made an Olympic team.
But she knew she had put in the work – even it was interrupted. “I was trusting it was still there and would carry me through and hoping my ankle would hold up through it,” she said.
Felix had not raced much this year, so used the three rounds of the 400 to get sharp. She hasn’t even attempted a 200 this season, so will again use the rounds to prepare her for the final. “I have to fight,” she said, “and just give it my all.”
Felix tried the same double in 2011 at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea, winning the silver medal in the 400 and the bronze in the 200 – terrific results by most people’s standards, but not up to snuff for her.
“In 2011, I learned that I’m a sprinter, that’s who I am,” Felix said. “That’s how I approached the 400. That’s my advantage in the 400 and I have to use it.”
She said five years ago she did a lot of distance work “and kind of lost that ballistic speed work. Since then we kind of came back to that.”
The only women to win both the 200 and 400 at the Olympic Games are Valerie Brisco (formerly Brisco-Hooks) of the U.S. in 1984 and Marie-Jose Perec of France in 1996, when U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson also completed the double. Brisco was another athlete coached by Kersee, who called Felix’s race Sunday her greatest ever.
“If Bobby says it was my greatest, I guess it was my greatest,” Felix said. “I definitely had the greatest adversity and had to overcome the most.”
A veteran and a teenager lead Team USA into the women’s high jump in Rio.
The irrepressible Chaunte Lowe, a 32-year-old mother of three, made her fourth straight Olympic team and won her eighth national outdoor title Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field.
Lowe cleared 6-feet, 7 inches on her first attempt, taking a bow after her world-leading jump.
Vashti Cunningham, the 18-year-old who burst onto the international scene winning the World Indoor Championships in March, was second. The daughter of football great Randall Cunningham made her first Olympic team by clearing 6-5 ½.
Inika McPherson, the 2014 national champion who stands just 5-foot-4 and sports a Mohawk and tattoos, jumped 6-4. It was her best jump of the season and met the Olympic qualifying standard.
LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, became the first man in the world to go under 44 seconds this season.
He posted a winning time of 43.97 seconds. Merritt will be joined in Rio by two Olympic newcomers: Gil Roberts, the 2014 national champion, was second in 44.73 and David Verburg, the defending national champion, was third in 44.82.
Roberts ran the semifinal under protest after being charged with a false start and he was reinstated.
Pan American Games champion Jeff Henderson made his first Olympic team in the men’s long jump with a wind-aided leap of 28-2 ¼. Jarrion Lawson became only the ninth American with a legal jump over 28 feet, going 28-1 ¾ on his fourth attempt to also earn his first trip to the Games and post the longest legal jump of the year.
Marquis Dendy, the defending national champion, went a wind-aided 27-7 ½, the same distance as Olympic bronze medalist Will Claye. Although Claye had a longer second-best jump to take third place, he did not have a legal jump this season that met the Olympic qualifying standard, so Dendy will go to his first Games. Claye missed the qualifying standard by 1 centimeter.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin came up short in his bid to make his second straight Olympic team. He finished seventh with a mark of 27-0 ¾. Goodwin came into the competition with the top two jumps in the world this season, including the world-leading leap 27-8 ¾.
English Gardner thrilled the Hayward Field crowd by winning the women’s 100 meters with a blistering time of 10.74 seconds, the second-fastest 100 in the world this year. She will go to her first Olympic Games.
Tianna Bartoletta, who on Saturday made the Olympic team in the long jump, the event in which she is reigning world champion, again made the team in the 100. At the London 2012 Games, Bartoletta was fourth, finishing just ahead of Felix, and won a gold medal on the 4x100-meter relay.
Bartoletta ran 10.78 seconds, the same time as Torie Bowie, who was third and made her first Olympic team.
Justin Gatlin shot his arm into the air in triumph after winning the men’s 100 meter with the fastest time in the world this year of 9.80 seconds. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, made his third Olympic team.
Trayvon Bromell, the 20-year-old world indoor champion, matched his lifetime best of 9.84, with Marvin Bracy running 9.98 for third. Both will go to their first Olympic Games. Michael Rodgers was fourth (10.00) and Tyson Gay was fifth (10.03), so both are expected to be named to the relay.
Olympic champion Ashton Eaton became the fourth American to win two straight Olympic Trials in the decathlon, joining Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson and Bryan Clay. Eaton, who set a world record at the 2012 Trials, was content with 8,750 points after injuring his left quadriceps in May. Eaton, who won three events on Saturday, ran the 110-meter hurdles in 13.60 seconds to score 1,027 points, then carried nearly a 200-point lead into the final event of the decathlon.
Jeremy Taiwo was second with 8,425 points and Zach Ziemek was third at 8,413. Both made their first Olympic team.