LONDON — Allyson Felix was just 18 years old at the time and had surprised much of the track and field world by winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In need of a dedicated coach, she returned to Los Angeles and met with Bobby Kersee in a Coco’s restaurant.
The renowned coach asked Felix what she wanted to accomplish in the sport. She rattled off several Olympics races, the 100-meter, the 200, both relays — a fanciful list, to be sure.
“He was like, ‘That’s a lot, but I think we can do it,’ ” Felix recalled this week.
Felix, now 26, is one of three high-profile American female track athletes who will be attempting difficult doubles when the track and field competition begins Friday at the Olympic Stadium. Felix will race in the 100 meter, the 200 — her signature race — and the 4x100 relay. Carmelita Jeter, the top 100-meter sprinter at the U.S. trials, will be competing in the same events. And Sanya Richards-Ross will run in the 200, the 400 and the 4x400 relay.
While Jeter is competing in her first Olympics, both Felix and Richards-Ross are among the most accomplished Americans the world has seen the past eight years. Neither has won an individual Olympic gold medal, though, and these Summer Games likely represent the best chance for both.
“Of course there’s pressure,” Felix said. “I’ve gotten two silver medals. At my third Olympics to think that people don’t expect me to finally get the job done would be crazy. I just try to stick to what I’ve always done, not let the pressure get to me.”
While each has taken on two complementary races, Felix and Richards-Ross should be competitive in both their respective events. Felix runs in the 100-meter preliminary heat Friday with the final scheduled for Saturday. Richards-Ross begins with her stronger race, the 400, with preliminary heats Friday. She calls next week’s 200 the “icing on the cake.”
“The 400 is the cake,” Richards-Ross said.
Only three female runners have managed Olympic gold in both the 200 and the 400: American Valerie Brisco-Hooks in 1984 and France’s Marie-José Pérec in 1996.
Felix’s 100-200 double has received more attention in recent weeks, mostly because many in the track and field community felt she might focus on just the second race. After finishing in a third-place tie in the 100 meters with her training partner, Jeneba Tarmoh, at trials, Felix, opted for a race-off rather than concede the spot. Tarmoh eventually bowed out of the race, and Felix said giving up the position was never a serious consideration.
“This is the Olympics. This is not something that I started last year,” Felix said. “This is not an easy thing. . . . Everyone sees this one moment when you’re on the track competing and they forget this is your lifestyle, this is what you sacrifice for enormously.”
Not only does she expect to be competitive in the 100, but the early sprint event will help prepare her for next week’s 200-meter race.
“I’m still completely invested in it,” Felix said of the 100. “I still think I can do really well. I know the odds are definitely against me. I’ve just been working so hard. I think that I can still get it done.”
Strategy is involved for all the runners attempting doubles, and their coaches began studying the Olympic schedule months ago. Felix spent her 2011 season running the 400 meter instead of the 100 and found it didn’t complement her 200 race nearly as well. She’d find herself tearing around the curve in the 200, eying the finish line but struggling to dig deeper for the homestretch.
“I just didn’t have my typical burst of speed that I usually have,” Felix said. “It was a really weird feeling to get to a spot and realize you don’t have another gear.”
In the past 50 years, only Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Games and Germany’s Renate Stecher in ’72 managed to win gold in both the 100 and 200. In both races in London, the world will keep a close eye on Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won gold in the 100 four years ago in Beijing. This year she has posted the world’s fastest 100 time (10.7 seconds) and the third-fastest mark in the 200 (22.1).
“It’s not just the Jamaicans,” said Amy Deem, the U.S. women’s coach. “You want to go out and be a medalist. I think that’s [our] focus.”
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