Allyson Felix runs with so much grace it’s easy to forget how fast she’s moving. She turns the 200-meter dash into the 200-meter glide.
Felix looked elegantly effortless Wednesday night, but this time she added urgency to her stride. She had taken home two consecutive silver medals from the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. In London, she wanted gold.
She got the one medal that has eluded her by winning her half-lap specialty in 21.88 seconds. The woman who had beat her to the finish line the past two Olympics, Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, faded in the last 50 meters and placed fourth.
Felix led a seven-medal haul for the United States on its most productive night yet at Olympic Stadium. The Americans won two medals in women’s long jump, two in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, two in the women’s 200 and one in the women’s 400 hurdles. Brittney Reese won the long jump and Aries Merritt won the sprint hurdles.
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In the men’s 200-meter semifinals, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake advanced to Thursday’s final with the fastest time of 20.01, and Usain Bolt ran an easy 20.18. Bolt is attempting to become the first man to win the 100 and 200 at successive Olympics.
“That’s why I am here, to cement my legendary status,” he said.
Felix said her triumph was “a long time coming.” She’s a four-time world champion but Jamaica’s VCB had made her second best at the Olympics.
“The moments that motivated me most were losing on the biggest stage,” she said. “At the time I said I would exchange all the world-championship medals for an Olympic gold, but now I embrace my journey.”
U.S. teammate Carmelita Jeter finished third four days after placing second in the 100 meters. Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the 100 winner, was second in 22.09.
Sanya Richards-Ross, who won the 400 meters on Monday, tried an Olympic double for the first time and was impressive. The Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas graduate placed fifth in 22.39, just .01 behind Campbell-Brown.
Felix attempted her own double, and she said running in the 100 meters — after a controversial tie with her training partner at the Olympic trials — was key to her victory.
“The 100 was huge for me,” said Felix, who finished fifth in the 100. “Just the speed and being aggressive — that’s something that hasn’t always been there for me.”
Felix, outside in Lane 7, had a slight lead over Campbell-Brown coming off the curve. But then Campbell-Brown faded in the stretch as Fraser-Pryce moved up and Jeter made a late surge from Lane 9.
Felix, 26, of Los Angeles, said her brother Wes, who is also her manager, reminded her to get out hard and use her long legs to her advantage on the curve.
“When she loses races it’s always in the first 60 meters,” he said.
“Veronica would get too far ahead and she couldn’t catch her.”
Felix is a placid, pleasant personality in the world of preening sprinters. Occasionally, that demeanor seeped onto the track.
“I think my running style is a gift and a curse,” she said. “It looks very fluid, but sometimes you have to get into aggressive mode, quicker turnover. People look at me and say I’m floating. Sometimes I get too complacent, and I need to keep digging.”
Campbell-Brown hugged Felix after the race and said, “I’m happy for her. I know how bad she wanted this.”
Jeter said the 200 women wanted to set the tone for the U.S. team to “step it up” in the medals race.
Merritt skimmed over the hurdles with nary a nick to become the first American to win the event since Allen Johnson in 1996. Jason Richardson was second. Merritt prevailed over a field that did not include two of his top rivals. China’s Liu Xiang, who met with injury heartbreak at the Beijing Games, couldn’t even make it over the first hurdle in his qualifying round because of an Achilles injury. Defending Olympic champ Dayron Robles of Cuba pulled up in the final, holding his hamstring, after the sixth hurdle.
“I had a pretty decent start,” Merritt said. “Halfway through I heard this yell.”
Reese added Olympic gold to her glittering résumé with a winning leap of 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches. She became the first American woman to win the Olympic long jump since Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988. She had wanted to win gold in Beijing for her hurricane-ravaged home of Gulfport, Miss., but she placed a disappointing fifth. The gold, she said, is in honor of the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast. Reese’s teammate Janay DeLoach was third.
Lashinda Demus was second in the 400 hurdles. T’Erea Brown, formerly of the University of Miami, was sixth. Murielle Ahoure, another UM alum, was sixth in the 200.