BEIJING (AP) — Allyson Felix and Christian Taylor were out of their comfort zones at the world championships.
Felix, because her best event is not the 400 meters. And Taylor, because he is still getting used to leaping off his right foot in the triple jump.
What they showed Thursday is that they’re so good, they win anyway. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
Noticeably absent from the medals party early on at the worlds, the U.S. made a big push thanks to Felix and Taylor capturing gold, while Justin Gatlin finished runner-up to Usain Bolt in the 200.
With that, the U.S. has 12 medals, including three golds. That’s more medals than Kenya overall, but still three less golds than the African nation.
At this point at the 2013 worlds, the Americans had 14 medals and four golds.
“A great night,” said Felix, who took a break from her signature event, the 200, to focus on the 400 and won her ninth world title. “We’ve been struggling a little bit.
“It was a good time to step up to a challenge and see what I could do.”
Felix and Taylor came through where some of the other big names in American track had not. Bad luck, injuries and plain old poor performances slowed down Team USA over the first part of this meet.
Olympic champion Jenn Suhr strained her groin before the start of the pole vault and wound up tied for fourth. On Thursday, three-time world champion Brittney Reese hurt her back before the long jump and couldn’t make it out of qualification.
“It’s been the hardest world championships,” Suhr said.
And then along came Felix. Wearing white socks stretched nearly to her knees, she got off to a great start in the 400, pulling away in the middle of the one-lap race and then easily beating Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas in 49.26 seconds.
One single clap, that’s basically all Felix did to celebrate.
Had the schedule not been so tight, Felix would have tried for the 200-400 double. But with only 65 minutes between the 200 semifinals and the 400 final on Thursday, it wasn’t doable.
Maybe at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — if the program gets altered, that is. As it stands, the tentative schedule is for the first round of the 200 to begin on the day of the 400 final. Those races are only 75 minutes apart.
But International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said the program isn’t completely set, leaving open the possibility that Felix could attempt the feat.
Wonder if Thursday’s performance swayed any opinions? Felix already is the Olympic champion in the 200.
“It gives me confidence in my fitness,” Felix said. “It did prove that I can do the process. I can train for it and execute my race plan.”
Taylor certainly put his best foot forward — and he didn’t even know it was his best foot, either.
Most of his life, Taylor has started his leaps off his left foot in the triple jump. Because of injuries, he switched things around and now begins his jumps off his right foot. He’s gone over 18 meters (59 feet, 3/4 inches) starting with both feet, which is quite a feat in itself. His winning jump was 18.21 meters (59-9), 8 centimeters (3 1/4 in inches) shy of a world record.
“Nobody can do that. Nobody has done that, except for him,” said teammate Omar Craddock, who finished fourth. “He’s making history. He’s bringing a lot of eyes to our sport.”
The U.S. has some heavy hitters stepping up to the plate on Friday. Names like David Oliver and Aries Merritt (hurdles), Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee (decathlon), Dawn Harper-Nelson and the other three hurdlers are still on tap. Also the relays over the weekend, where Felix’s presence makes the Americans a contender for more gold.
“Time to rally together,” Felix said.