REUTERS – American sprinter Allyson Felix will get a rare chance to win gold in both the 200 and 400 metres after the global athletics governing body changed the Rio Olympics competition schedule.
“I am excited for the opportunity to attempt this incredibly difficult feat,” Felix said on her Twitter account. “The schedule was just the first step. The next step is to make the U.S. Olympic team.”
The change, made by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and accepted by the IOC and Rio organisers, gives Felix more time between her opening round of the 200 metres and final of the 400 metres, making the double plausible, the IAAF said on Saturday.
The Olympic 200 metres gold medallist and world 400 metres champion will now have more than 13 hours between races instead the 75 minutes allowed under the original schedule.
“I am excited,” Felix’s coach Bob Kersee told Reuters. “She has wanted to do this double and the schedule change gives her a better opportunity to win more medals for the United States.”
Felix had sought the change in hopes of becoming only the third woman to win both events in the same Olympics.
American Valerie Brisco-Hooks claimed the honour at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and France’s Marie-Jose Perec won both at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, joining men’s Atlanta double winner Michael Johnson.
Kersee had pushed hard for the change, frequently saying that 200-400 metres runners should be given the same chance that 100-200m sprinters have in the Olympics.
He had already said Felix would run both the 200 and 400 at the U.S. Olympic trials so she would be ready in case the change came through.
USA Track & Field had made the request in December and on Saturday said the change will help elevate the visibility of the sport as a whole on the Olympic stage.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach was not immediately available for comment but appeared to favor the change when asked at last year’s world championships.
“The Olympic programme has been defined in principle,” Bach said at the time, “but if we have a special case where we could help an athlete we should still be ready to discuss it.”
The news also was a bright spot for the IAAF, which has been beset by recent anti-doping and corruption charges.
The women’s 200m competition was already shaping up to be one of the highlights of the Rio Olympics with Felix, Dutch world champion Dafne Schippers and Jamaican Olympic silver medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce expected in the field. Now Felix’s bid for the double will add more excitement.
The change moves the first round of the women’s 200m from the evening of Aug. 15 to the morning.
Her first 200m race is now set for 9:30 AM in Rio with the 400m final remaining at 10:45 PM, according to the IAAF website.
Felix, 30, has tried the 200-400m double once on the global scene, finishing second in the 400m and third in the 200m at the 2011 world championships.
She wanted to attempt the double at the 2015 worlds but ultimately decided the schedule would be too difficult. Felix went on to win the 400m while Schippers claimed the 200m in the fourth fastest time ever.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)