The next Marion Jones: That’s the catch phrase that’s been hung on super-sprinter Allyson Felix with increasing frequency lately — particularly since last spring, when she beat Jones’s U.S. junior and senior high school records in the women’s 200 meters by seven-hundredths of a second (22.51).
Indications are, the association is likely to stick. And for good reason: Felix, 18, is the World Junior 200 meter record holder, and she’s qualified to compete in the Olympic trials this July. That means that while there, she may very well face off with Jones, 28. But if Felix feels any pressure from the comparison to the Olympic champion (who took five medals at the Sydney games in 2000, but then took a year off to have a baby), she doesn’t show it.
“The thing I love most is the sense of competition — having the opportunity to compete against the best athletes in the world,” says Allyson. Her biggest challenge right now, she says, involves balancing the demands of Olympic training (which requires four to five hours a day, six days a week) and studying for college classes.
A freshman at the University of Southern California, Allyson decided to forego college athletic competition (and her athletic scholarship) in order to proceed directly to the professional circuit. But she still takes her studies and her elementary-education major seriously. “You can only compete in this kind of sport for so long,” she notes, “so it’s important to have another career to fall back on.”
It’s not hard to imagine Felix as the kind of teacher and role model that little kids would look up to. Felix, the daughter of an ordained minister (her father, Paul) and a teacher (her mother, Marlean), is a soft-spoken but eminently confident young woman who demonstrates a huge appreciation for the values of family, focus and hard work.
She names her parents and her older brother, Wes, 20 (also her roommate at USC and a college track star in his own right), as her biggest influences. “Both my dad and brother ran track,” she notes, “so they taught me a lot and really encouraged me in athletics when I was younger. And my mom is a third- grade teacher, so I pretty much grew up in the classroom, too.”
Felix has shown enormous athletic promise since she began running track at age 14, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Last year, while competing in the national trials for the Junior World Team, she pulled a ham- string. She finished the race anyway, and qualified, but the injury gave her grief for about three months, requiring her to do a lot of pool workouts and lay off her full-throttle sprints for a while.
“That was hard,” notes Allyson. “It took a lot of patience to not push too hard while the injury healed, but it also gave me a greater appreciation for my body and what it could do at its best.”
To keep her body running in top condition, Felix observes the nutritional recommendations of her coach, closely monitoring her protein and carbohydrate intake, emphasizing fresh foods and avoiding hydrogenated fats and most sugar. “It’s not too extreme,” she says, “and I’m not always perfect about it, but I do try.”
Felix certainly appears to be doing something right. And she has her eyes set on a very bright future. “I want to be in this sport for at least the next two or three Olympics,” she says.
It seems likely she’ll see Marion Jones there. In the meantime, she can look forward to a lot of good press and a widening fan base of her own.
In December, Felix was named one of Outside magazine’s “25 Sports and Adventure Goddesses Who Rule.” We think that association is probably going to stick, too.