EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Allyson Felix had the star power to change the Olympic schedule.
Now, it’s her schedule that needs adjusting.
Felix’s run at the 200-400 Olympic double, made possible after Olympics officials honored her request for a chance to run both races, came to an earlier-than-expected end Sunday. She finished fourth in the 200-meter final, one spot out of the Rio mix, in a .01-second loss to a sprawling Jenna Prandini at U.S. Track and Field Trials.
“Honestly, disappointed,” said Felix, who will not get a chance to defend her Olympic title in her signature event. “The whole year, that has been what I was working for. When I look back and see everything that happened, I still think it’s quite amazing I was able to make the team.”
She did make the 400-meter lineup, and that is, indeed, quite an accomplishment considering the injury she suffered this spring. After landing awkwardly on an exercise ball while doing core work, she rolled her right ankle.
The injury was so severe she avoided running around the track in the correct, counterclockwise direction until just before trials, for fear she’d put too much outside pressure on her injured ankle.
In track lingo, a sprinter doesn’t necessarily have to be “fast” to succeed in the 400 — a full lap around the track in which technique is more important than pure speed. But in the 200, it takes a more aggressive lean into the curve at the opening of the race — just the sort of practice Felix didn’t get enough of during her slow comeback.
“I could only do what I could with the ankle,” she said.
And so, she started slow, never made up ground against winner Tori Bowie or second-place Deajah Stevens and could not hold off Prandini, the former University of Oregon star who had to wait about 30 seconds to see the result for third place go up on the board. Afterward, she was scraped-up but smiling.
“I don’t know what happened,” Prandini said. “But it got the job done.”
One of Felix’s biggest fans made news earlier in the day: 16-year-old Sydney McLaughlin became the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic track team since 1980 when she finished third in the 400-meter hurdles.
Not bad for the junior out of Union Catholic High School in New Jersey, who turned on the Beijing Olympics eight years ago, saw Felix winning the 4×400 relay and thought, “I’d like to be like her, someday.”
Asked what she loved most about Felix, McLaughlin said: “She wasn’t afraid to lose.”
“Sometimes, I get so caught up in the fact that I hadn’t lost a hurdles race, and I come here, and these girls are faster than me,” said McLaughlin, who admitted to being so nervous earlier in the week she considered pulling out of the meet. “It’s realizing that sometimes you have to lose to get better.”
It happened to Felix plenty over the years, none more heartbreakingly than in Athens and Beijing, where she settled for back-to-back silvers in an event she had dominated.
But she won gold in 2012.
And with track and field desperate for some star power in a sport now headlined by Usain Bolt and a worldwide doping crisis, a scheduling change that would double the track time for one of America’s most popular runners was a no-brainer.
But U.S. trials don’t guarantee anything, and on Sunday, a few more potential medal contenders — including 400-meter hurdlers Johnny Dutch and Bershawn Jackson — also saw some dreams end early.
Felix is still going to Rio de Janeiro. But with more free time on her hands than originally planned.
“I’m pretty sure everyone expected to see her on the (200) team,” Bowie said. “I’m pretty sure it won’t be the same without her.”