She wore a white gown and diamond necklace to the Emmy Awards last fall; he wore a suit and diamond earrings; together they walked the red carpet. In a sport now defined by young stars in the United States, Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin are two of the youngest, biggest and most visible, and they share a special friendship that both say has helped them climb through the sport faster.
On Sunday, they took separate paths to the top of the medal stand, each victorious in the 200 meters at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Gatlin's victory in the 200 with a time of 20.04 seconds gave him a dual victory in the 100 and 200 here this weekend, a double that hasn't been achieved since Kirk Baptiste did it in 1985. The Olympic champion in the 100, Gatlin will compete in his first world championships in August. He topped Tyson Gay (20.06) and reigning 200 Olympic champion Shawn Crawford (20.12).
"I feel like I'm back in the zone I was in in college," said Gatlin, who won NCAA titles in the 100 and 200 in 2003, "doubling and hopefully dominating the field as well."
Gatlin's victory came minutes after Felix, the 2004 Olympic silver medal winner, won her second 200 national title at age 19 and in a personal-best time of 22.13 seconds, bettering Rachelle Smith (22.22) and LaTasha Colander (22.34). Lisa Barber, who won the 100 Saturday, finished fourth in 22.37. Felix and Gatlin stand -- usually together -- at the head of a class of youngsters that will lead the United States at the August championships in Helsinki.
"He is my sidekick," Felix said. "We pretty much came out together. We're really close. We're always there for each other, supporting each other."
Though they train on opposite ends of the country, he under Trevor Graham in Durham, N.C., and she under Bobby Kersee in Los Angeles, they talk frequently by phone and have much in common. Both entered the professional fray in the summer of 2003, he after spending two years at the University of Tennessee, she after her senior year at Los Angeles Baptist High. They have attended a number of events together, including last fall's Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Each denies a romantic relationship, preferring to describe the other as a dear friend and confidante.
"We're very compatible within the job we do," Gatlin said. "She's young; I'm young. . . . I'm helping her along and she's helping me along, [helping me] stay poised."
Felix rushed to console Gatlin Friday after he was disqualified from the first round of the 100 -- he was later advanced to the semifinals on appeal -- because of a false start. Gatlin said seeing Felix in the cool-down tent made him emotional for the first time, but he strove to keep his cool, not wanting to distract her from the races she had left to run.
"She was the one that brought really the emotions out of me," Gatlin said. "My dream is being a world champion . . . it was almost slipping through my fingers. When she walked up, I got a little emotional . . . but I made sure I was strong for her, so she didn't worry about me."
Once Gatlin was reinstated, he realized he had a more pressing concern than Felix's mental state -- his own.
"I had to turn it around," he said. "My confidence dropped a little bit. I had to bring it back up."
Despite sleeping fewer than four hours Friday, he cruised through Saturday's semifinal and won a windy final in 10.08 seconds, topping Crawford, his training partner, for the first time. In the 100, Crawford, who said he has been bothered by foot pain, finished in 10.17.
"I hate losing," Crawford said. "Right now, I think my mentality and pride are hurting worse than my feet."
Gatlin said he also woke up hurting Sunday, feeling drained and worn out by the events of the weekend. Felix, meantime, hinted that she wakes up hurting nearly every day, given the draining practice schedule she has undergone since joining Kersee last fall. Kersee, she said, believes in building strength early in the season with lots of hard running -- 400s, 500s and even 600s, she said. She hates the work, but likes the results so far.
"My training now is more focused on strength," she said. "I haven't really gotten to the speed yet."
She hopes to get to that speed come August at the world championships.
"I'm a little bit better this year," she said. "A little more confident with my training."