Three Olympic champions met the media on Wednesday (10) to take questions about their returns to Olympic competition next week.
USA’s Brittany Reese, Christian Taylor, and Allyson Felix, all of whom have Olympic gold from 2012 in London, discussed the challenges and changes they’ve faced over the past four years.
Felix’s attempt to contest two events here – the 400m and 200m – had to be scaled back to just the 400m when an ankle injury left her fourth in the shorter event at the US Olympic Trials. Felix will be looking for her seventh Olympic medal in Rio, after four golds and two silvers in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Both silvers and one of the golds came from the 200m, with the other three golds from relays; Felix will be contesting the 400m for the first time.
“I had to re-focus. I had to put everything in perspective,” she says. “Each time the Olympics has been a different experience for me.
“Going into this one I had a lot of adversity this year. I am running a new distance, but I am excited to use my experience over the years.”
A victory in the 400m, 4x100m or 4x400m would make Felix the first woman in history to win five Olympic gold medals. A medal of any colour in either of those events would put Felix’s medal collection in the league of legendary heptathlete Jackie Joyner Kersee, wife of her coach, Bobby. “Jackie has been a mentor to me, and to be mentioned in the same breath as her is amazing,” she says.
Speaking of her form, Felix feels “a lot better than at the Trials” and is describing the lingering effects of her ankle injury as mainly “issues with recovery”.
Brittney Reese met with a more significant injury than Felix in 2013, the year after her Olympic triumph. “I tore a hip ligament,” Reese explained, “and then [in 2014] I tried to rush the recovery. I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot since then.”
Reese cited improvements both mental and physical since her last Olympics. “Once I started with a mental coach,” she explained, “it all came together. I started focusing on the runway and not on the past. I’m a competitor, I like to win, and I was losing, so that was the key to my success.”
Reese also says her injury and subsequent surgery has improved her form. “I can extend farther now; I can thank the surgeon for that.”
Meanwhile, Reese has taken over as mother to her eight-year-old godson, a responsibility which has forced her to take a more organised approach to her training. “I was home-schooling him between January and July,” she says. “That didn’t work. I learned I always have a shadow now. He was always there asking questions. And I had to be smart with myself to fit in my physio and my training.”
Christian Taylor, defending triple jump champion, tore down his form and rebuilt it between Olympics.
With his coach, Rana Reider, Taylor opted to switch from jumping off his left leg to his right, a process he compares to learning to throw with his other hand. “I was having issues with my patella in my left knee,” he explained. “I was going to competitions concentrating on coming out healthy, and not on the world record.
“It was far from easy,” Taylor continued. “I had to re-learn the event. We started with a lot of small hops and box jumps.”
In his preparation for Rio, Taylor paid no attention to a competitive field which seems less challenging than that he faced in 2015. “I have to prepare for someone to do something crazy,” he says. “Our theme has been, ‘be ready to respond’. But I’m lucky, sprinters just get one chance. I get six. I’d love to have somebody raise the bar for me.”
That desire for a competitive spur comes from Taylor’s focus on the world record of 18.29m by Jonathan Edwards, which has stood for more than 20 years.
“It’s an amazing feat, and it took a special guy to do it. I think I can do it.”
Parker Morse and Michelle Sammet for the IAAF