INTERVIEW: Allyson Felix bidding for history at Rio 2016

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Golden Girl: Allyson Felix.

It’s not every day the IOC and IAAF decide to change the Olympics schedule just to make it more feasible for one athlete to potentially compete in two different events in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

Then again, considering that change was made for Allyson Felix, the decision really was a no-brainer.

The multiple-time Olympic and world champion is gunning for a rare 200-400m double in the upcoming Games in Brazil but the original schedule could have seen her contest the 200m first round and the 400m final in the same evening session on August 15 with only 75 minutes in between.

But thanks to a petition from USA Track and Field, which was accepted by the IOC and IAAF, the 200m first round heats have been moved to the morning session, giving Felix a few more hours between both events.

While the schedule will still be gruelling for Felix, at least she won’t have to run multiple events in the same session.

Felix, the reigning Olympic champion in the 200m and current world champion in the 400m, has competed in the shorter distance in each of her three previous appearances at the Games.

The American sprinter won her first Olympic medal as an 18-year-old in Athens 2004 when she took silver in the 200m.

She claimed 200 silver again in Beijing 2008 along with gold in the 4×400 relay before topping the podium in the 200, 4×100 and 4×400 in London 2012 to become the USA’s most decorated female track and field athlete.

Felix has never contested the 400m (outside the relays) at the Olympics but she received a welcome boost when she won her first World Championship gold medal in the event in Beijing last year with a personal best time of 49.26 seconds.

That victory took Felix’s World Championship tally to a staggering nine golds, the most ever won by an American athlete, seeing her eclipse Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson. She also became the first woman to win World titles in the 200m and 400m and also broke her tie with Lewis and LaShawn Merritt for the most Worlds medals by an American.

The 30-year-old admits she never imagined surpassing such legends.

“It’s funny I never really considered myself in that company,” Felix told Sport360 at the Nike Innovation Summit in New York, where she unveiled the Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit that was specifically designed for her.

“Every year I’ve just tried to do the best that I can and I looked up one day and I was like ‘oh wow’, I didn’t even know that those records were there.

“So it’s fun, just always pushing myself and it’s a huge honour to be in any sentence with them. I still feel like it’s not right, but it’s cool.”

On winning her first major 400m title in Beijing, Felix said: “It was really encouraging actually. I feel like for the longest time people have always told me that I could be good in that event and it’s not that I didn’t believe them, but it’s just a race where you really have to trust yourself in your training.

“It’s very different because being a sprinter you just want to run, you want to just go all out and this race makes you have a strategy and you have to do all this extra stuff.

“So I would say it was encouraging and it also let me know that I had more there and I’m getting closer to my potential.”

The Californian is looking to become just the third woman in history – behind American Valerie Brisco-Hooks in 1984 and France’s Marie-Jose Perec in 1996 – to win both the 200m and 400m at the same Olympics.

But chasing history is not Felix’s primary motivation behind her shot at the double.

World and Olympic champion: Felix.

World and Olympic champion: Felix.

“I would say the biggest drive is kind of a challenge to myself. Just the fact that I’ve done the sprints and this is something new,” she explained.

“For the past three Olympic Games I’ve run the 200m and I feel like now is the time, if I want to do this it has to be now. So just challenge myself, push myself and prove to myself if I can do this.”

While Felix is pleased the Rio Olympics schedule is slightly better than the original one, she admits she was hoping to have a day off between both events. She says she has already been mentally wrapping her head around what that stressful day of August 15 might look like, so she is prepared if and when it comes.

Felix says training has been tricky at times but she is excited at the prospect of competing in both, although she is only focused on the US Olympic Trials coming up in July.

“It’s a bit intense,” she said of her training regimen. “For me, running the 400, I think that still my biggest asset is my speed, and so I am a sprinter, I train like a sprinter but I have to do a lot more volume, so that’s not always fun.

“But that’s probably the biggest key, a balance between speed and volume.”

Felix has long been an advocate for clean sport and she volunteered to be part of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s ‘Project Believe’ pro- gramme and regularly gets tested to ensure that her body is free of performance-enhancing drugs.

Unfortunately, track and field continues to be tainted by doping and the scandal regarding Russian athletes casts a big shadow on the sport.

“It’s disheartening honestly, it’s frustrating,” said Felix of the allegations of the state-sponsored doping that is believed to be rampant among Russian athletes, and which might keep them out of the Olympics.

“You feel like you’re taking a step forward sometimes and then you’re knocked back two steps so it is difficult.

“But I just try to go with what I can control and I try to bring positivity. For me, just knowing that I have my integrity and my character is reward enough. So I’m hoping that going into Rio things will be getting cleaned up.”

Does she think the Russians should compete in Rio?

“It’s not for me to decide, I just hope that when we get to Rio that it would be a clean Olympics.”

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Musa Khalfan sets 100m record at Ultimate Racenight League

Jay Asser 19/03/2016
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Powering home: Musa Khalfan, the winner of both the 100 and 200m races.

The blazing-fast sprinter set a new league record in the men’s seniors 100 metres, crossing the finish line in a blistering 10.54 seconds at Dubai Sports City on Thursday.

It was Khalfan’s first league appearance since his lone showing in the second meet back in November, when he paced the field with a 10.60s run.

“I’m happy. I came in and tried my best, but I’m hoping to surprise you guys in the other races coming up,” Khalfan said.

Even though his time improved, Khalfan was in a competitive race and acknowledged the improvement of the other runners as the season has gone on.

“All the runners have really improved, got better and better,” he said. “So it really motivates me. That’s what’s good about this. I say they’re part of my team.”

Khalfan, however, has yet to reach his ceiling in the league.

He’s capable of shaving even more time off, as he proved the weekend before at the Dubai Corporate Games, where he revealed he hit 10.18s.

Holiday heroics: Khayre Ali winning the 800m.

Holiday heroics: Khayre Ali winning the 800m.

Due to regular training every Thursday, he’s yet to be fully fresh when hitting the track in the Ultimate Racenight League.

“I’ve been having really heavy training on Thursdays. When I end up doing races, it’s really different,” he said.

“After training, I come straight away to the race. That’s when you waste half your energy, so when you come you cannot expect to do what you want.”

That didn’t stop him from also competing in the 200m, which he claimed with a time of 21.91s.

While Khalfan was a favourite, another runner, Khayre Ali, came out of nowhere to claim the men’s seniors 800m.

The 18-year-old participated in his first and only meet in the league, bringing his spikes from the US to Dubai while on spring break to finish in 2:04.5, ahead of Germany’s Tom Bork.

“I’m on spring break so I just decided to do one race before my outdoor season starts,” said Ali, who attends boarding school in Philadelphia.

Pace to burn: Baptiste Requillart on his way to winning the U15 100m.

Pace to burn: Baptiste Requillart on his way to winning the U15 100m.

“I run the mile usually. My mile time is 4:31, so that’s a 4:29 conversion to the 1600m. I wanted to get a fast 800m time and break two minutes today, but I guess it doesn’t help being on spring break.”

Ali will return to the US next week and is hoping to also do athletics at a university there.

Even though the Ultimate Racenight League has seen the last of Ali, at least for this season, he’ll go out on top.

He said: “I’ll be undefeated I guess.”

Hannah McLaughlin had her best finish in the U15 girls 400m, crossing in a personal-best 01:03.1.

“I was hoping for a personal best and was happy I got it,” she said.

In U13 girls, Emily Sinclair picked up where she left off after missing the last meet by widening her lead at the top of the table with wins in four of the age group’s six events.

She claimed the 80m in 11.13s, the 150m in 20.02s, the 300m in 46.47s and the high jump with a leap of 1.31 metres.

Two meets remain of the Ultimate Racenight League, with the next event scheduled for April 21.

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Max Calderan: Italian desert explorer to run 340km across the Tropic of Cancer

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Max Calderan.

Dubai resident Max Calderan will set off on a 340km trek across the desert from Saudi Arabia to the Omani border early Friday morning.

An extreme athlete since he was a teenager, Calderan will go through severe periods of dehydration and sleep deprivation in order to become the first man to cross the Tropic of Cancer on foot.

The Italian national is an experienced endurance runner and has completed an array of gruelling challenges, including running non-stop for 90 hours over 437km in Oman and was the first man to cover 200km in 48 hours across Oman in 2007 – where temperatures hit a high of 56 degrees. During Ramadan in 2012, he ran 250km across the merciless Sinai Peninsula in Egypt while fasting.

A man who can put his body through ruthless challenges like this is no ordinary person, and this is something that has taken years of conditioning as Calderan continues to test his physical and mental boundaries.

“I said to my mum in 1974, that when I’m older I will be the first man to cross the desert because here it was written that it is impossible,” Max told Sport360. “As for me, nothing is impossible. We are men. We are humans. We came from nature. Why is it impossible? Why? There is no reason.”

“It’s a matter of remembering who we are at the origin. We cannot be scared about anything from nature. Why are we no longer able to do it? Only because we have been conditioned by what we read in books or from other people.”

His latest expedition will start over the UAE border in Liwa and bring him across the desert to Oman where he is expected to finish on March 21.

One of Calderan’s biggest accomplishments in the punishing summer heat was a 360km expedition across Saudi Arabia in 75 hours where temperatures reached as high as 58 degrees.

“Once we enter the desert, we start to over-think and panic and forget who we are, so in this case, mind preparation is very useful until the first step into the desert,” Calderan said.

“After this you have to remember that you are bigger and stronger than you think. You are not average. Each of us has their personal method, their own training and decisions. It’s very easy but it’s just one small key to open a very big door.”

In the build-up to his First Ever on Foot crossing challenge, Calderan trained in three main areas: sleep deprivation, water deprivation and food deprivation, something he believes is critical if any athlete is to challenge extreme activities.

“I do all my training sessions to the limit. I was running up and down flights of stairs at my building in JBR and I ran up 700 floors last week to prepare myself for this. It’s a matter of tough training, but the main point to remember is to train yourself during the night,” said Calderan.

“I normally have three to four hours sleep. During my previous explorations, I slept five-seven minutes every three/four hours. In Oman two years ago, I went without sleep for 100 hours, just small naps. It’s very useful if you’re stressed.”

“We have to train our heart, our mind, to react within us to discover something. I feel, not I think. You need to study every day of your life in order to improve and be the best you can be.”

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