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Friday, Aug. 10, 2012

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Down the stretch they come: The finalists in the women's 200-meter race at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday. Allyson Felix (second from left) won the gold medal in a time of 21.88 seconds. AFP-JIJI

Felix ends frustration with gold in 200 meters

Staff writer

LONDON — Good things come to those who wait.

Even though the wait may be difficult or demanding, the reward can be great, especially when someone pours their heart and soul into a years-long project, making endless sacrifices along the way to achieve something special, never giving up or believing the target is impossible to reach.

Allyson Felix has lived this story.

Felix, a fan favorite for several years, picked up her long-sought gold medal in the women's 200 meters as part of an eventful evening for the United States track and field program on Wednesday at Olympic Stadium.

One of the most decorated track athletes of all time, the University of Southern California product took the gold in 21.88 seconds after finishing runnerup to Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown in each of the last two Summer Olympics.

Felix's triumph Wednesday was the result of a splendid finish, churning her legs quickly and, more important, moving her graceful 168-cm frame faster than Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the London Games' 100-meter champion, over the final 20 meters.

Fraser-Pryce took second in 22.09 seconds and USA's Carmelita Jeter won the bronze in 22.14.

Campbell-Brown's reign ended as she placed fourth in 22:38, and Felix's unabashed joy after the race highlighted years of work and the realization that though she had accomplished so much — 10 world championships medals, including eight gold, since 2005, and a 4x400 relay gold in Beijing — but never an individual Olympic gold to validate her greatness.

Before receiving their medals, Felix and Jeter draped themselves with American flags after the race, the former looking radiant as the crowd gave her a cheerful congratulations in recognition of what she had just done.

"It's been a long time coming," Felix stated. "I am so overjoyed, my boyfriend and family, everyone was here. I am so thankful to God for an amazing opportunity. I am so excited.

"I thought back to disappointment in Beijing. It's been a long road," she added. "I never wanted to give up. It's been a journey — never easy, but you can't lose sight of your dream. It's just awesome. I've wanted it for so long.

"This moment is priceless."

The only other female Olympian besides Felix to win an individual gold after two silver-medal performances was now-retired judoka Ryoko Tani at 48 kg.

The Americans also grabbed gold medals in the men's 110 hurdles (Aries Merritt) and women's long jump (Brittney Reese) and seven athletics medals in total on the night.

What's more, world record-holder Ashton Eaton leads after five events in the two-day decathlon competition with 4,661 points. He's on pace to shatter his own world record of 9,039 points set in Eugene, Oregon, in June, and holds a 220-point lead over American teammate Trey Hardee.

Meanwhile, in the men's 200, Jamaica's Usain Bolt, the World's Fastest Man, sits fifth after Wednesday's three semifinal heats. The double Olympic 100 champ won the second heat in 20.18 seconds, while training partner Yohan Blake posted the top time in qualifying (20.01 seconds) to triumph in the first heat.

Kei Takase and Shinji Takahira both missed the cut for the eight-man final, placing 18th and 19th.

The 200 final is set for 8:55 p.m. Thursday under the bright lights at Olympic Stadium.

"It's all about going through as easy as possible," Bolt deadpanned. "I am ready. This is my favorite event.

"The track is fast," said Bolt, who won the final at the Beijing Games and holds the world record of 19.19 seconds set a year later at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin. "It's going to be a good race, a lot of good competitors."

Bolt dismissed the naysayers' view that's he won't repeat as 200 champion and help Jamaica retain its 4x100 gold.

"That's how people are," he said. "They are always doubting a champion. But that is why I am here, to cement my legendary status. I am focused and I am ready."

Blake, the silver medalist in Sunday's 100, maintained a low-key demeanor while conversing with reporters.

"The race was a walk in the park," he said. "I've been working hard, all I needed to do was kick well."

In the men's 110 hurdles, Merritt ran a season-best 12.92 seconds, nearly breaking Lui Xiang's Olympic record (12.91) and the world record, set by Cuban Dayron Robles (12.87).

Liu suffered a painful exit on the first hurdle in Tuesday's qualifying and was carted off the track in a wheelchair, and 2008 Beijing champion Robles, plagued by a hamstring injury, was disqualified for "deliberately knocking down a hurdle," as stated in the IAAF rule book.

U.S. teammate Jason Richardson took the silver in 13.04 and Hansle Parchment of Jamaica earned the bronze.

"I am so excited, words can't explain how excited I am right now," said Merritt, who has strung together wins at the indoor nationals, indoor worlds, outdoor nationals and, now, the Olympics over the past several months. "People were talking about a world record, but 12.92 into a headwind (minus 0.3 meters per second) is still pretty impressive. I am happy with that."

In the day's other hurdles final, Russia's Natalya Antyukh took top honors in the women's 400 in a personal-best 52.70 seconds, followed by American Lashinda Demus in 52.77 and Czech Republic's Zuzana Hejnova.

"This has been very special," Antyukh said. "I cannot express the words. I only started the hurdles in 2009. I have done a lot of work. To get a PB (personal best) is amazing, a world record soon would be great. . . . The biggest challenge was to see myself against just myself."

Reese soared 7.12 meters through the air to win the long jump competition, with Russia's Elena Sokolova claiming the silver in 7.07 meters and American Janay Deloach the bronze in 6.89.

"I just wanted to go all out," said Reese, the first American since Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988 to triumph in the women's long jump. "I wanted 7.20 meters. I knew it was going to be 7 meters, but I didn't think it was 7.12 meters. I thought it was 7.05 meters. It didn't look 7.12, but I am glad it was 7.12 meters."

Add up all of the above accomplishments and Team USA picked up two Olympic medals in at least three track and field events on the same day for the first time since Aug. 8, 1984.

On Thursday, the second day of the decathlon will feature the 110 hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 meters.

The competition's opening day saw Eaton lead the field after the opening event, the 100-meter dash. He ran it in 10.35 seconds, best among all 31 decathletes.

Next, Eaton was measured at 8.03 meters in the long jump, the only competitor to top 8 meters.

Before the afternoon break, Eaton flung the shot put 14.66 meters, good enough for 11th place in that event, which kept him 105 points ahead of Hardee.

"The fans don't really understand the decathlon," Eaton said, "but from the crowd out there, they're learning. To stay for the shot put, which is not that exciting, proves that."

Chasing his own world record, though, should ratchet up interest in Thursday's five events, especially after Eaton produced a 2.05-meter high jump (second-best) and top speed in the 400 (46.90).

Keisuke Ushiro, Japan's first Olympic decathlete since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is currently in 26th place with 3,848 points. He was 10th overall in the high jump (1.99 meters), his top finish in the first five events.

Also for Japan, Waseda University student Genki Dean finished seventh in qualifying for the men's javelin final with a throw of 82.07 meters.

Vitezslav Vesely of the Czech Republic leads the field with a mark of 88.34, a personal-best throw.

Yukifumi Murakami, the Japan Olympic captain, missed the cut and could only manage a throw of 77.80 to place 24th in qualifying. The top 12 advanced.

In the men's 5,000, Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel and compatriot Yenew Alamirew were the top two qualifiers, clocking 13 minutes, 15.15 seconds and 13:15.39, respectively.

Four-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, who was born in Kenya and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, was fourth.

American Galen Rupp, the 10,000 silver medalist on Saturday, enters the final with the sixth-fastest time, while Britain's Nick McCormick and Mo Farah made the cut as well, as did American Lopez Lomong, the Sudanese-born runner who was the U.S. flag bearer at the Beijing Games Opening Ceremony.

Farah, the 10,000 champion, finished the morning heat in 13:26.00.

"There was a lot of pushing and shoving, but that's what happens in the heat," Farah said. "The final (on Saturday) will settle down. I will respect everybody and forget what has happened."

Farah admitted fatigue set in after his energy-sapping triumph last weekend.

"My body was a bit tired and I was not as fresh for the 5K as some of the other runners," Farah said.

Jones vows to carry on


LONDON — Lolo Jones isn't going away. And she's not going to change a thing.

The day after another disappointment at the Olympics, the 30-year-old Jones said she has no plans to retire and would like to still be hurdling at the Rio Games in 2016.

"Last night, Gail Devers called me and said she was . . . 37 when she got her last medal," Jones said of the two-time Olympic 100-meter champion.

Jones is backed by big-name sponsors and has appeared on magazine covers, including a recent issue of "Time." Her charisma and childhood narrative — her family once lived in a church basement in Iowa — only add to a story that has made her one of the most marketable and high-profile athletes on the U.S. Olympic team.

But she hasn't won much when the stakes are the highest.

She finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles Tuesday, 0.10 seconds behind bronze medalist Kellie Wells.

At Beijing four years ago, Jones came in as the favorite and was leading the final when she hit the ninth of 10 hurdles and wound up seventh.

She has no Olympic or world outdoor championship medals, and has been criticized in some places for occupying a prominent spot in her sport's limited spotlight despite the less-than-perfect results. But she makes no apologies.

"The Olympics are only once every four years so you have to take advantage of all your opportunities, both to be an inspiration to people and help support your sponsors who help you," she said. "I don't regret doing any stories or being in magazines. For me, it was a chance to do things like get tips on eating healthy and working out to people."

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