12 MAY 2012 Feature Doha, Qatar

“It’s pretty cool” that US sprinters are bouncing back – Samsung Diamond League

Allyson Felix after her victory in the 2012 Samsung Diamond League in Doha (Jiro Mochizuki)Allyson Felix after her victory in the 2012 Samsung Diamond League in Doha (Jiro Mochizuki) © Copyright
Allyson Felix’s reaction to beating her all her Jamaican rivals at the opening Samsung Diamond League meeting in Doha (11 May), and over her less favoured distance of 100 metres to boot, was probably the most succinct expression of how the United States sprinters felt after an evening of conspicuous success: "It’s pretty cool."

Felix had already made her feelings obvious as she punched the air after crossing the line ahead of the World and Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown in a personal best of 10.92sec. That unexpected US triumph was mirrored in the men’s 100m, where Justin Gatlin, who has already laid down a big marker by winning the World Indoor title this year, ran down Jamaica’s former world record holder Asafa Powell to win in 9.87sec, the third fastest time of what promises to be an electric season of sprinting.

Gatlin’s reaction was a little more challenging than that of Felix: "If Usain Bolt has been watching, you know it has been great racing against him, but I want everyone to know Justin Gatlin is back, and I want the Olympic title."

Both results gave credence to the sentiment expressed the day before the meeting by Walter Dix, the 100 and 200m silver medallist at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Daegu, when he predicted "a breaking out year for US sprinters."

It’s early days yet. But Dix himself is already setting his sights on gold rather than silver when it comes to the London 2012 Olympics. "That’s definitely the main focus this year," he said. "To match the silvers with gold. I’ve been training towards that for all along. It’s open – and I think this year will be the year."

The tone of defiance was shared by two of Dix’s US colleagues, LaShawn Merritt, who won the 400 metres in a world-leading 44.19sec, and double Olympic 400m Hurdles champion Angelo Taylor, who finished third in Doha in 44.97.

On the subject of Kirani James, the 19-year-old from Grenada who beat him to the world title last season, Merritt commented: "He’s a great talent, and he’s definitely learning the race. But I’m here. I’m here to whup him. That’s what I train for."

He added: "It’s Olympic year. It’s The Year. Some people are going to get more serious, make some changes where they get totally focused on what they need to do because Olympic year is the year that makes track and field athletes."

Taylor, too, stepped up to the plate to put the US case as far as resisting the growing 4x400m relay challenge being mounted by a Jamaican team that is due to include the World 100 and 200m record holder, Usain Bolt.

"There’s been a lot trash talking on the circuit about how the US is going down this year so I’ve got to be out there to play my part," said Taylor.

"We’ve got too much firepower for them. Bolt might well run 43sec but he can’t catch another 43. We’ve three 43 relayers, possibly four. It will be a good competition but – we own the 4x4."

Merritt’s comments about some athletes making changes certainly apply to Dix, who finished last season with an outstanding flourish at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Brussels as he ran a personal best of 19.53, making him the fourth fastest man of all time, behind Yohan Blake’s 19.26sec, which has only been bettered by Bolt’s World record of 19.19. Yet that high point was compounded by an urgent sense of dissatisfaction.

"In that race I thought I was in good shape to run around that time," Dix said. "But I think it doubly exposed a couple of technical things I was doing wrong which caused me to leave the coach I was working with and to join my new coach, John Smith, and try to work on my stance."

"So it was definitely a great timing for me, running a personal best, but it also exposed some things I was doing wrong in my track and field career."

Asked about the detail of those technical improvements, he responded: "There’s going to be an answer I would say, but like my coach always tells me, does Colonel Sanders let people know the secret recipe for KFC chicken? So I can’t tell you why, but I can definitely tell you that me and my coach have been working on it and hopefully we will see the results."

"John Smith is a great mentor. He definitely knows how to get into the athlete’s head as far as achieving things that you wouldn’t think are possible."

Dix also paid tribute to the help he had got from training in a group with another sprinter with Jamaicans in her sights this year, the World 100m champion Carmelita Jeter.

"Having Carmelita there as a mentor is definitely a positive thing," he said. "She’s also been a very influential person in my training this year. The both of them together have definitely brought me to a different level of sprinting."

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF