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Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Felix already is taking over 200

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

Marion Jones may not yet be searching for the next Marion Jones. For those who are, a little torch the size of a Bic lighter was just passed in Athens.

It's the kind that tends to burn brighter before it burns away.

The new Marion Jones may be Allyson Felix, and we say "may" because when you're dealing with 18-year-old talent and a sort of open-highway future, there's nothing remotely certain in sight. And we say "Marion Jones" knowing full well that Jones did things in Sydney in 2000 -- winning the 100, winning the 200, finishing third in the long jump, pulling down two other medals in relay events -- that almost no athete at any point of even a star-studded career is able to do.

Still, there you go. And there went Felix on Wednesday in Athens, providing this brilliant glimpse into what could be an amazing track future, taking a silver medal in the 200 meters while Jones, who once owned the event, stood off to one side working on her long-jump qualifying.

Jones did make the long-jump final, and it was later announced that she'll run the second leg of the women's 4x100 relay despite the potential risk that accompanies any team entry featuring a woman who has faced drug allegations for most of the past year. Four years removed from one of the most celebrated efforts in track history, Jones inarguably still matters.

But the 200? That's different. That, just now, is Allyson Felix. And it could be for a while.

For the past year and a half, Felix has been chipping away at Jones' towering stature in the event. It was in April of 2003 that Felix, then 17, took down Jones' 11-year-old record for the fastest time in the 200 by an American junior or high-school sprinter. Jones ran 22.58 in 1992. Felix lowered it to 22.51 at Mt. Sac, then a 22.11 in Mexico City that wasn't officially recognized because the meet didn't conduct drug testing.

Felix's 22.28, to win the U.S. trials in Sacramento, was the second-fastest in the world at the time; her 22.18 on Wednesday was second-fastest at the Olympics to the 22.05 laid down by gold medalist Veronica Campbell of Jamaica.

And this just in: She's still 18.

That puts Felix in her second Olympics at 22, her third at 26 and ... listen, it's all projection right now. But Allyson Felix is worthy of the projection. She is young and she is incredibly talented, and if she can run the 200 she can run the 100, and if she can do those things then maybe putting any artificial limitations on her is the worst idea possible, and you understand the inclination, in a case like this, toward exactly that kind of extravagant projection.

On the other hand, maybe there is no future Marion Jones. If you told Jones that today, she'd probably laugh a little ruefully and wonder who'd be crazy enough to want it anyway. The Jones of 2004 is the epitome of the word "embattled," alternately remaining silent and bellowing back at the drug insinuations all around her while dealing with the larger reality that her dominant Sydney form is no more. She's 28 years old, a year removed from giving birth to a son, and it has been clear from the Sacramento trials on through to Athens that she is working feverishly for everything she gets on the track or in the field.

Jones is a young woman out here in the world at large, and yet in the biosphere of athletics, she already has a full decade on the likes of Allyson Felix. A year ago, Felix was graduating from high school. It is safe to say she's still learning how to train and race at the elite level, which ought to send a chill down the collective spine of her competition.

That is to say: Jones may or may not be the past of U.S. track and field, but officials could hardly be faulted for hoping that Felix is a large part of its future.

Felix is a great story dropped down into a bleak time for the U.S. squad. Buffeted by drug scandal, bent by suspension, the Americans clearly sent less than their premier team to Greece -- and then they saw some of their remaining stars, people like Stacy Dragila and Tom Pappas, fall short of their own lofty goals.

But here comes Allyson Felix, the California kid, daughter of a former sprinter, sister to 2002 U.S. junior 200-meter men's champion Wes Felix. She works out on her own, followed around only by her coach, Pat Connolly, who also directed much of the career of Evelyn Ashford, a four-time Olympic gold medalist.

She cruised through her early rounds in Athens, fought off her nervousness in the final and came fairly close to becoming a teen gold medalist in the sprints. She'll hear more about the whole next-Marion-Jones thing before it's over because you get the very strong feeling that Felix is just getting started. For U.S. track and field, that is very much the good news.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com