Double trouble? Ankle injury has Felix on edge for trials
EUGENE, ORE. >> Allyson Felix is supposed to be cementing her track legacy this summer.
Instead, she comes into U.S. Olympic trials hobbling, unsure and simply hoping for third place.
On a slow, painful comeback from a freak injury to her right ankle, the most decorated female sprinter in U.S. history will have to grit out spots on the 200 and 400-meter teams to have a chance to become the first woman to capture that double at the Olympics.
The trials were supposed to be little more than a warmup and a bon voyage party for the 30-year-old, six-time Olympic medalist. But when Felix landed awkwardly on a medicine ball while doing core exercises at her gym in Los Angeles two months ago, everything changed.
"I've never seen my ankle that big before, and it happened just immediately," she said. "When it happened, there were a number of thoughts running through my head. A scary moment. I'd never had anything like that happen before."
After the fright, came frustration and a slow recovery.
She's had to alter her workout routine, including running the wrong way around the track, so as not to put as much strain on her right ankle, which, as the outside ankle, is more at risk over counterclockwise trips around the oval.
She has not been able to prepare for the grueling schedule that the double will require in Rio. It was Felix's camp that pushed for the scheduling change the International Olympic Committee granted in order to make the double possible. Even with the adjustment, Felix will have to race on five consecutive days, including Aug. 15, which features 200-meter prelims in the morning and the 400 final at night.
Maybe most alarming, Felix has barely raced this year. The 400-meter prelim Friday will be only her second test of the ankle in real competition since the injury.
She concedes she has thought about scaling back her schedule, maybe to focus on the 200 meters — her specialty, and the one at which she's won three gold medals at world championships and a gold and two silvers at the Olympics.
She hasn't been able to let go of her dream, though.
"I set those goals long ago," she said. "I wanted to fight to be able to have that opportunity. I don't know if I'll ever have it again."
Here are five more things to watch at Olympic track trials, starting Friday:
ANOTHER DOUBLE?: The world's best time at 200 meters this year doesn't belong to Usain Bolt. Or Justin Gatlin. Or any other runner who is known for that distance. Rather, it belongs to American LaShawn Merritt, a 400-meter specialist whose 200 time of 19.78 in April is the best of 2016. Merritt is entered in both the 200 and 400, and the men's schedule at the Olympics is even more friendly for a 2-4 double. Michael Johnson is the only man to do that, back in 1996.
ANOTHER RECORD: At the last Olympic trials, Ashton Eaton broke an 11-year-old world record in decathlon. He broke it again last year at world championships. What's in store next? The defending Olympic champion doesn't go into meets thinking about setting records, but he does believe in "Hayward Magic," that mystical feeling he gets when running and throwing at what is, essentially, his home track — Hayward Field. He said it all but carried him across the line in the 1,500 meters — the final event of the 2012 decathlon, when he needed to beat his personal best at that distance to set the record. Eaton's record now stands at 9,045 points.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Barring surprises, Gatlin will be the main challenger to Usain Bolt when the Olympics roll around. But the 34-year-old has to earn his spot first. It shouldn't be a problem, but with the U.S. rules, in which the top three qualify with no exceptions for past champions or top performers, Gatlin knows he's a false start or a stubbed toe away from being on the outside looking in. "You think Olympic Trials, it's a dream. It's making dreams happen. People are running with dreams in their eyes, and that's when people are most deadly," he said.
DOUBLE THREAT: Before receiver Marquise Goodwin checks into training camp with the Buffalo Bills, he may have to make a short detour. He doubles as a long jumper and has a chance to make it to his second Olympics. The two-time NCAA champion finished 10th at the London Games. He said that less-than-satisfying result gave him a sense of unfinished business. When he started training again under the guidance of 2004 Olympic champion Dwight Phillips, Bills coach Rex Ryan told Goodwin he could have a pass on training camp if he makes the U.S. team.
ALL AGES: Among those with good chances to make the Olympics are 18-year-old Vashti Cunningham, the high jumper who is the daughter of former NFL star Randall Cunningham, and 17-year-old sprinter Candace Hill, who has dubbed 2016 the "Year of the Youth." On the other end, there's 40-year-old shot putter Adam Nelson, who came out of retirement to try to make his fourth Olympic team.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.