Athletics: Teenager Felix jets in to elite company on a blast of fresh air

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The Independent Online

It was, in fact, the Jamaican's first loss in a 200m race since 11 March 2000 - not quite as prolonged a span of invincibility as the nine years, nine months and 122 races in which Ed Moses was untouchable in the 400m hurdles, but at five years, four months and 42 races, halfway towards it. "I've seen it as a wake-up call," Campbell reflected, as she settled into the Athletes' Village in Helsinki and looked ahead to the challenge of attempting to gain another global 200m crown to set alongside the Olympic title she won in Athens a year ago. "I've taken it as a positive rather than a negative. It has made me more motivated, more focused."

The focal point of Campbell's attention here in Finland, where she also runs in the heats of the 100m today, is the young American who pulled away from her in the home straight at Crystal Palace.

At 18, Allyson Felix took the Olympic silver medal in Campbell's wake in Athens. At 19, the Californian stands to become the first teenager - male or female - to win an individual sprint event in the 22-year history of the World Championships. She will start the favourite when the heats of the 200m get under way in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, having beaten Campbell in London (with a wind-assisted 22.16sec to 22.29sec) and having clocked 22.13sec at the US Championships last month to head the world rankings for 2005.

Not that Felix sees herself as the number one contender. "I still think Veronica Campbell is the woman to beat," she said. "I think she's going to be stepping up her game here. Psychologically, I don't think beating her at Crystal Palace was really that important. Anything can happen here. I have to go out there when it comes to the rounds and just be competitive and not think it's a sure thing. That's how I go into every race."

When Felix insists she keeps her running life in keen perspective, she is making no idle boast. Her father, Paul, happens to be an ordained minister who teaches New Testament Greek at the Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California. "The reality is Allyson can get from point A to point B faster than most people, and society has put a big emphasis on that," her father said, when asked about his daughter's burgeoning progress in the global sporting spotlight. "But that is not significant in light of eternity. So we try to remind her that God has given her ability, and she is responsible for using it to His glory."

Felix herself maintained: "My faith is the most important thing in my life. That's why I run. It's a gift from God, and I want to use it to the best of my ability." Her manager, Renaldo Nehemiah, the former 110m hurdles world record holder, describes her as: "wholesome, refreshing, well-grounded". "She's just pure," he added. "Pure talent."

That being the case, the teenage prodigy would make a refreshingly welcome winner of the World Championship women's 200m title. The first three women across the line in the final in Paris two years ago - Kelli White, Anastasiya Kapachinskaya and Torri Edwards - have all since either confessed to using banned drugs or have failed tests for them. Then there is Marion Jones, winner of the world title in Edmonton in 2001. Her fading form these past two summers has coincided with her unproven implication in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative - Balco - drugs scandal.

Felix has long been labelled "the new Marion Jones". Two years ago she broke Jones' US junior and high school records with a time of 22.51sec at the Mount Sac Relays in California. At the same meeting 12 months previously she had queued for Jones to sign her autograph book.

The prospect of Jones ever having to testify in court against accusations that she used banned performance-enhancing drugs faded last month after the final defendant in the Balco case, Dwain Chambers' former coach Remy Korchemny, agreed a deal with the prosecuting authorities in the United States.

"I really haven't been following it," Felix said, with not a little exasperation, when asked about the Balco saga and the cloud that has been cast over Jones and US sprinting. "I've been out there training and just focusing on me and the World Championships. I haven't had to deal with any of that."

Felix has been doing her training in Los Angeles under the guidance of Bob Kersee, husband of the heptathlon world record holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee and brother-in-law of the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, who put the world 100m and 200m records beyond the grasp of her rivals and succeeding generations with the finger of suspicion being pointed in her direction (without any firm foundation, it has to be said).

Not that Felix can remember any of the fuss about Flo-Jo. She was, after all, only two when Griffith-Joyner scorched to the Olympic 200m title in a freakish 21.34sec in Seoul in 1988.