Olympic athlete: interview with Allyson Felix
John Shepherd speaks to Allyson Felix
Interview by John Shepherd
Despite the heat of the California sun and the fact that she has already talked to about 12 other journalists, Allyson Felix is still fresh and funny. I sense that she’s also got a real sense of humour, and not just one put on for the assembled hoards of journalists; her face lights up when she cracks a joke and she’s not afraid to laugh at herself. No pretensions or track star airs and graces then – she’s grounded, down to earth and confident in herself and her athletic ability. The two times world 200m champion and Beijing Olympic 4 x 400m gold medallist is known as ‘Shug’ and ‘Chicken Legs’ (the latter due to her slim physique, which belies the ability to be able to run 100m in under 11 seconds). Born in LA, she wanted to be a teacher and played basketball before she got into track. Now she’s teaching her rivals a thing or two over 200 and 400m and hopes to be doing so until at least the 2012 Olympics.
The interview took place in California in March 09 at a special adidas sponsored running camp
JS: What are your aims for this season?
AF:: My main aim is to defend my world title.
JS: Who will be your main rivals?
AF: Definitely Veronica (Campbell-Brown), Kerron Steward, Sherone Simpson and the rest of the Jamaican athletes…… so, Jamaica!
JS: Do you work on your mental approach? You seem focused and very mentally strong.
AF: No, I never have. I kinda attribute it to my family and my upbringing and the mentality that they raised me to have.
JS: Do you focus on anything in particular during your warm up?
AF: Once I actually get onto the track, I’m really focused on technique and what I need to do during each phase of my race. I have a little routine that triggers where my focus needs to be.
JS: And those little things, what would they be?
AF: Like coming out of the blocks, I know I need to be driving and being very powerful and aggressive. And when I hit the curve I know that I need to be leaning in and working on coming off that curve really strong.
JS: What’s your first movement in the blocks?
AF: Uh, I’m not really sure. It’s the movement of the hand along with the movement of the feet simultaneously. I’m trying to be very strong and very powerful in the (first) step.
JS: How do you combine the need to be relaxed with the fact that you also need to be aggressive to generate all that power?
AF: For me I really just try to focus on what I need to do and that kinda takes me out of the moment and away from the crowd and relaxes me. I try not to be too relaxed, though, as I need the adrenaline of the situation.
JS: Is there any type of training that you don’t like doing?
AF: Yeah, anything’s that’s long. I hate 600s but I get through them, I love to sprint.
JS: Do you do any aerobic work?
AF: Yeah, every Wednesday we go on a 30-minute run, but that’s the one road run we do. Once the season starts we pretty much stop that. But every so often, we pick it back up … you can feel when it’s (aerobic fitness) lacking.
JS: What’s your strength as a sprinter?
AF: I think it’s top end speed and being able to hold that. The beginning of my race is weak and I pick things up later on.
JS: Are you working on your start?
AF: I would love to (improve it) I’ve been trying to for a very long time. I know what’s wrong and I can visualise it, but it’s a whole other thing trying to actually correct it.
JS: Is it frustrating, as you could run maybe a tenth faster?
AF: (Alyson laughs) Oh, extremely frustrating.
JS: Have you got your season mapped out?
AF: Yes, for the beginning of it. I’ll start locally with a few relay meets, Mount Sac and the Penn relays and then I’ll go over to Doha (Super Grand-Prix, this March) and run there and then come back here for the meets in the US, like the adidas meet (in California) and then get ready for the nationals.
JS: If you could run against anyone from history who would it be?
AF: Oh, hmm, that’s a good question, (thinks)… they would all beat me, but it would have been really cool to have run against Flo-Jo and Valerie Brisco-Hooks. Yeah, I think I would probably be watching them as I ran!
JS: Were they your role models?
AF: No, I actually got into track really late, so I kinda missed it all. Once I found I had a passion for track I went back and I enjoyed watching the races on TV. I was playing basketball and being the typical child and trying a whole lot of different things and my mum always had us involved in a whole lot of activities. I was doing pottery and gymnastics, just trying to be a well-rounded child (laughs).
JS: Have you got any advice for young sprinters?
AF: I would really encourage them to do it, even if they don’t really see themselves as having a career out of it. Just to be active and have a healthy lifestyle and have some fun.
JS: Did you ever think that you would have a career out of track?
AF: No I didn’t. I really started track because I was at a new high school and I was trying to meet some new people. My brother had run and it was suggested that this would be a good way to ‘get in’ at a new school. And then I eventually fell in love with it (track). But I had dreams of being a teacher.
JS:Do you ever get bored doing track and field?
AF:Uh, not really, sometimes it gets a bit monotonous, but that’s when you have to break up the training and try something new. But I really enjoy what I am doing.
JS: What’s the cornerstone of your conditioning?
AF: I do all the Olympic lifts, plus a lot of speed endurance training and sprint work. We normally do two speed sessions a week in off-season. It changes, but once we get closer to competition, pretty much every day is a speed day.
JS: Do you train every day?
AF: We’re about five days right now. We train twice a day on occasions around the time of the nationals and preparing for the worlds.
JS: Is there a particular session you do which will tell you that you are in pretty good shape to run a good time?
AF: Yeah, 150s. If you hit a certain time I’ll know I’ll be perfect for 200m.
JS:Can you tell us the time?
AF: Around 15 mid, 15.9 from standing. It’s just one run. One and done, that’s good for me.
JS: What’s the hardest speed endurance workout you have done?
AF: Um, gosh, well we had this one workout, where it felt like it was three workouts mixed into one. We started out and we did a ‘five’ a ‘three’ and a ‘two’ (runs on the track) and then we went out on the road and we did some hills and then we came back and we finished up with 6 x 200m. Bobby (Kersee, Allyson’s coach) never tells you what the workout is before and you kinda just get in and do it.
JS: How do you deal with not knowing what the workout will be?
AF: You get on the line and you’re a little nervous and he just tells you where you’re ending at and what pace to run at. When we come to practice we see him setting up cones and we try to speculate what it (the workout) is going to be. If he tells us a really slow pace we know that we are going to be out there forever.
JS: Do you follow a specific supplement regime?
AF: Umm no supplements, but diet, I’ve always had difficulty keeping weight on since I came to Bobby, since we do so much running. So I have to make sure I get enough calories. I try to keep track of the calories and aim for 3,000 a day. I think of it (diet) in those terms.
JS:Do you think that as a woman you have train differently to men? I mention the specifics of the female anatomy and the different stresses their bodies go through
AF:I always feel that it’s (sprinting) easy for them (men), it comes more natural to them, like coming out of the blocks where they are more powerful and aggressive. So we (women) have to do more drills and more sled work, just because, at least for me, it’s not such a natural thing.
JS: Do you do over-speed work?
AF: Uh, I’m not sure, maybe I should try! Bobby just hasn’t included it in our training.
JS: Have you done anything unusual in your training?
AF: Um, I wish I had some secrets… we do nothing really out of the normal. Just lots of hard work
JS: Are you a bad loser?
AF: I don’t think that I am a terrible loser. I definitely don’t like losing though, but I try to learn from my losses.
JS: Do you have any favourite tracks?
AF: No not really, I love track, but I like Monte Carlo and Paris. I like to travel, but you don’t really get to take advantage of the time you’re there, but my family always has some great pictures. They get to vacation a little longer than me!
JS: Do you have any advice for recreational runners?
AF: I kinda consider myself a recreational runner, especially when I go on my 30- minute run. So little tricks to help me get through it include always taking someone with me, because I have less chance of stopping. I try to enjoy it, (but) for me I don’t really find joy in running for a long time, but I listen to my music and try to get through it.
World Champs: 200m golds in 2005 and 2007; 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m in 2007
Olympics: 200m silver in 2004 and 2008, 4 x 400m gold
Thanks to adidas……..
In November 2008, adidas announced its 10-year partnership with the IAAF, becoming the official sponsor of all IAAF World Athletic Series events through 2019, including the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. This sponsorship continues adidas commitment to track and field leading up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, where adidas will also be the Official Sportswear Partner.
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