Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Give the kid a break
By Seth Wickersham ESPN The Magazine
ATHENS, Greece -- Fake a cold. Claim a headache. Slash your own tires. Get food poisoning.
Paul Felix, Allyson's dad, says something is just something to shoot for, the real goal is gold.
Or find another excuse. Do anything you can, Allyson Felix, to get your old man off your case because right now he doesn't look like he's budging.
"Tuesday is her first day of class," says Paul Felix, proud dad of America's glossiest and newest track phenom, who also happens to be a student at USC. "And she'll be there."
Seriously, can't she find an out? Doesn't winning a silver in the 200 meters Wednesday night, in her first Olympics ever, not to mention she's only 18, mean she can take a little break?
No, not if you're Allyson Felix, who did something very disturbing after setting a new world junior record with a 22.18 200-meter dash. Very disturbing indeed.
She didn't celebrate.
She didn't use the American flag to wipe the sweat off her face.
She finished her run and cruised right off the track. She didn't smile. Didn't even pant. She'd just set a junior world record! Where's the M.C. Hammer routine as she exits the stadium?
"Allyson only wants to win the gold," her dad said. "Winning the silver gives her something to shoot for."
What, The Next Famous Track Athlete isn't enough? She's already the first track athlete ever to pull a LeBron and go straight from high school to the pros. A little more than a year ago she was in high school in California breaking Marion Jones' 200 record. A year ago at this time she was breaking Jones' nine-year-old U.S. junior 200 record. Now, she's got a silver medal and a warm smile and the calves it takes other women years to sculpt. And she's got one more thing.
Tonight wasn't her best. She says her start was off. "It was definitely not up to par," she said minutes after medalling.
Scary to think about what Felix might do to track and field. Even scarier to think that her mom, Marlean, still has to make sure she's not eating junk food. Scarier still to think that Allyson does all this with asthma. And most scary to think that she's only been in one Olympics yet still can make a LeBron-worthy purchase, like her Cadillac Escalade or the grand piano she bought for her mom. A six-year, $1 million-plus contract with adidas can do all that.
Watching Allyson run Wednesday night was watching track's faces change, from swept aside and disgraced (Jones), to fresh and happy and untainted. Allyson idolizes Jones, even now that Jones' future is at stake and her present is long jumping, and watching someone who won so many gold medals just four years ago be dropped to only competing in long jump would be like watching Eddie Vedder do the Goldberg family bar mitzvah. Says Felix's agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, "What you saw tonight was a sign of the future."
The future doesn't mind huge expectations, and actually courts comparisons to Jones. The future looked like the past's child at the post-race press conference, when the Bahamas' Debbie Ferguson, who got the bronze, looked so old at age 28 that she said, "There's a new breed out there." The future also prayed with each of her parents separately before making history on Wednesday. And the future says she doesn't feel any pressure about the icon she might become. After all, the future is so young that she was born after "Back to the Future."
The future also has people around her who won't let her within a Barry Bonds shot of anyone with a key to the BALCO lab. Her coach, Pat Connolly, is so anti-enhancer that the Felixes might have a tough time getting a cough drop past her. But that's why Connolly is her coach because Paul and Marlean, who are both active in the Baptist church, won't have it any other way. "As long as we have (Pat) as a coach," Paul says, "we don't have to worry about drugs."
Felix seems ready -- ready for the medals, the records, the money, the autographs, the shrieks. And Paul and Marlean are all for it. As long as she doesn't miss class.
Certainly "I'm polishing my silver" would work just once, right?
Seth Wickersham covers the Olympics for ESPN The Magazine.