NEW YORK — Michael Johnson said he had not chatted with Allyson Felix about a potential 200m-400m double at the Rio Olympics, speaking on a red carpet before the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame induction at the Armory on Thursday night.
Two hours later, Felix introduced Johnson, who swept the 200m and 400m at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics as part of a highly decorated career, to receive a Legacy Award at the black tie and sneakers ceremony.
In the following six-minute speech, Johnson reflected on knowing track was his calling at age 10, how much he enjoys even talking about track and field since his 2000 retirement and thanked, among others, two athletes whom he considers heroes — 1968 Olympic 200m champion Tommie Smith and two-time Olympic heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“Lastly,” Johnson said to USA Track and Field royalty (video here at 2:45), “Allyson, you have to double next year. No pressure, but you’ve got to double next year, because that is something, as a true track fan, that I want to see. Thank you, thank you all.”
Last we left Felix, the Olympic 200m champion captured her first World title in the 400m in a personal-best 49.26 seconds, coming back from being carried off the track by brother Wes after tearing her right hamstring in the 2013 Worlds 200m final.
Felix, 29, opted not to race the 200m at this year’s World Championships because the 200m semifinals and the 400m final were about one hour apart on the same night, Aug. 27. Felix, a three-time World champion in the 200m, chose the 400m over the 200m at Worlds because she considered it a greater challenge.
The Rio Olympic schedule currently has the 200m first round and the 400m final about an hour apart. Slightly less demanding than Worlds, but still not ideal enough for Felix to say she will definitely attempt to race both the 200m and 400m at the Games, as Johnson did 20 years prior.
For 1996, the original Olympic schedule called for the men’s 200m semifinals and 400m final on the same day. Johnson reportedly said then that he would have chosen one individual race if the Atlanta 1996 schedule remained that way.
Johnson said he lobbied for the schedule to be changed in 1995, to no avail, and then helped his case by sweeping the 200m and 400m at the 1995 World Championships, with a schedule more conducive to the double.
The Atlanta Olympic track and field schedule was then revised in March 1996, allowing Johnson a full day of rest between the 400m final and the start of the 200m rounds. Johnson, in golden shoes, went on to become the first man to sweep the 200m and 400m at an Olympics.
Johnson, now a track and field analyst for the BBC, said it would be fantastic for the sport if the Rio Olympic schedule would be altered to give Felix a day off between the 400m and 200m.
“I would love to see it, and I think she’s more than capable,” he said. “It would bring something special to the Games.”
In July, Felix said that her longtime coach, Bob Kersee, would be “voicing his opinion” by “talking to whoever he needs to talk to” hoping to change the Rio Olympic track and field schedule.
On Thursday, Felix confirmed that talks are happening but didn’t know specifically with whom Kersee was speaking.
“He’s meeting again this coming week, so he’s going to give me an update on where things are,” said Felix, who recently returned from a Mozambique trip with Right to Play. “I’m just going to let him take control of the entire situation and see what happens.”
Is she confident?
“I guess I wouldn’t say I’m confident because I have no idea really,” she said. “I feel like it could definitely go either way. I think I’m more just hoping for the opportunity.”
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said before the World Championships in August that the Rio track and field schedule could be changed under “a special case.”
If the Olympic schedule remains as is, would Felix still consider trying to race both the 200m and 400m?
“Right now I don’t see why I would do them both,” Felix said. “I feel like if the schedule’s not going to change, I would take time to focus on one or the other, but that’s something I’d have to think about.”
At Worlds, Felix said she will plan to race the 200m at the Olympics for a fourth straight time if she sticks to one individual event. That is no longer the case, Felix said Thursday.
“The 200’s my favorite, clearly, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t run the 400,” she said. Felix, who raced the 100m and 200m at the London Olympics, hasn’t raced the 400m at the Games outside of relays. “I haven’t ruled anything out if the schedule’s not changed.”
So that’s where Felix stands heading into 2016. She has said she may race in the winter indoor season, which concludes with the World Indoor Championships from March 17-20.
If not, we may not see the most decorated U.S. female track and field athlete in history compete until the spring. If 1996 is any indication, the Olympic schedule could look different by then.
“It’s a political situation,” Johnson said of the talks. “It takes you, as an athlete, outside of your normal zone of competing and getting results.”
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