Athletics: Felix finds thrilling burst to take gold

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The Independent Online

Christine Ohuruogu, the new golden girl of British athletics, has been given the night off on this penultimate day of the World Championships. The Great Britain team management want to keep their ace in hand for the 4x400 metres relay final tomorrow – assuming, that is, that the quartet they have chosen for the heats today avoid getting trumped out of the competition. Still, the woman who won the individual 400m gold here on Wednesday would be advised to enjoy the rest while she is able to. Not one, but two, of the world's stellar track and field talents are considering setting out on a mission to eclipse her in Beijing next year.

On an evening of sparkling performances on the track in Nagai Stadium yesterday, no one shone brighter than Allyson Felix in the final of the women's 200m. Still a teenager when she sped to the title in Helsinki two years ago, the 21-year-old Californian with the slender build (she was called "chicken legs" in high school because of her spindly limbs) came of age in the home straight with the kind of turbo-charged acceleration last seen in her event by Florence Griffith-Joyner in full flow.

In fact, even when Flo-Jo blasted to her freakish 21.34sec world record at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, she failed to put as much distance between herself and her nominal rivals as Felix succeeded in doing after rounding the turn in the slipstream of the 100m champion, Veronica Campbell of Jamaica.

Going into overdrive with a vengeance, the young American crossed the line in 21.81sec, the fastest time in the women's 200m for eight years. Campbell was 0.53sec down, in 22.34sec. And that, for the record, is the biggest winning margin in a global women's 200m final since Fanny Blankers-Koen beat Britain's Audrey Williamson by 0.80sec en route to one of her four gold medals at the London Olympics in 1948.

All of which could leave Ohuruogu and Nicola Sanders, the British team-mate who took the one-lap silver medal behind her on Wednesday, with serious food for thought on the road to Beijing.

Having achieved one lifetime goal in breaking the 22sec barrier in her specialist event, Felix is now giving serious consideration to having a crack at the 400m as well as the 200m at next year's Olympics.

"It's a definite possibility," she said. "I want to add an event in Beijing. I'm not quite sure which way to go – either the 400m or the 100m. I won't make that decision until this season's fully finished."

Felix, who happens to be coached by Bob Kersee, the brother-in-law of the late Griffith-Joyner, has already clocked 49.70sec for the 400m this season, only 0.09sec slower than Ohuruogu's winning time on Wednesday. She did that in Stockholm last month in taking the prized scalp of Sanya Richards, the fellow-American who tops the world rankings for the 400m this year with 49.52sec.

Richards, the world athlete of the year in 2006, qualified only for the 200m here (finishing a bitterly disappointed fifth in 22.70sec in last night's final) but intends to return to the quarter-mile at the Weltklasse meeting in Zurich next Friday, where she will have Ohuruogu firmly in her sights. "I don't know what happened to me in the 200 tonight, but I'll be ready to run a great 400 in Zurich," she said.

There might even be a foretaste of Anglo-American rivalry on the final day here tomorrow, with both Felix and Richards keen to run in the 4x400m relay final. Assuming that both nations get the baton round in the heats, that is. Thankfully, the British men's 4x100m squad – Christian Malcolm, Craig Pickering, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis – managed to do so in their heat yesterday, placing the emphasis on safety-first exchanges as they qualified in second behind Brazil, clocking 38.33sec.

It was a night, though, when the sparkle came from those in stars and stripes – the peerless Jeremy Wariner finishing 0.51sec ahead of his compatriot LaShawn Merritt in retaining his 400m crown in 43.45sec. Only Michael Johnson and Butch Reynolds have run faster.

Then there was a taste of things to come in Beijing next year, with a sizeable Chinese contingent roaring Liu Xang to an equally stunning victory in the 110m hurdles final. Drawn out in lane nine, the world record holder had to come from behind, clattering all but one of the barriers as he snatched gold from Terrence Trammell of the US in 12.95sec.

Sadly, from a British point of view, the semi-finals of the men's 800m proved a hurdle too high for Michael Rimmer, as the semis of the women's 1500m did for Abby Westley and Lisa Dobriskey.

Still, there was a novel sight to savour in Nagai Stadium: that of Alberto Juantorena (to quote the late Ron Pickering) opening his legs and showing his class. Not that the class shown by the 30-year-old Cuban Alberto Juantorena Jnr in the decathlon 400m was anything like as high as that which took his father to his memorable Olympic 400m-800m double in Montreal in 1976.

Watched by his 56-year-old father, a council member of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Alberto Jnr finished third in his heat in 50.37sec – 6.11sec slower than his old man's winning 400m time in Montreal. Still, Alberto Snr had only the two events to contest. His son has 10. After the first five of them yesterday, he was standing 12th in the decathlon rankings.