Felix happy to be back, Gatlin, Coleman cruise

DES MOINES, United States (AFP) – Allyson Felix struggled through her first race in 13 months but declared herself happy to be back after scraping into the 400m semi-finals on the opening day of the US Championships on Thursday.

More than a year after her last outing as a professional, the 33-year-old Felix is back on the comeback trail at Drake University this week, hoping to win a berth on the US team for September’s World Championships in Doha.

Felix, the only woman to win six Olympic track and field gold medals, is returning to the sport following her pregnancy and birth of her daughter in last November.

However the comeback didn’t go as smoothly as planned on Thursday, finishing fourth in her heat in a time of 52.20 seconds, well outside her personal best of 49.26 set in 2015.

That left the veteran former 200m and 400m world champion sweating on the outcome of other races to confirm her spot in the next round.

Allyson Felix competes in the Women’s 400m heats during the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships. – AFP

“It felt rusty, kind of to be expected,” Felix said afterwards. “I haven’t raced in a long time. It’s going to take some time to get back into it.”

Felix, who is aiming to race in her fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, was able to draw positives from the display however.

“Even though it wasn’t a great result for me, it’s a starting point,” Felix said. “My biggest goal is next year.”

Felix said regaining her physical conditioning while juggling parenting duties had been the most demanding part of her comeback.

“Things that were pretty easy for me are now pretty challenging,” Felix said. “So just getting past that, and being a mom.”

Elsewhere, world champion Justin Gatlin and rival Christian Coleman breezed through their early heat in the 100m.

The 37-year-old Gatlin, gold medallist in the 100m at the 2017 World Championships, clocked 10.16 seconds to qualify second fastest behind training partner Isiah Young in 10.14 seconds.

Coleman, the world’s fastest man over 100m this season with a world leading 9.79 seconds, barely needed to get out of first gear to win his heat in 10.29 seconds.

Coleman is in the vanguard of a new generation of US sprinters looking to replace Gatlin and the retired Usain Bolt at the pinnacle of international sprinting.

But the prospect of Gatlin and Coleman going head-to-head at this week’s four-day meeting – the US qualifier for the World Championships – is uncertain.

Gatlin, as the reigning world champion, is not required to qualify for the world championships, and hinted on Thursday he may skip the later rounds of the 100m.

“I’ll go back tonight and watch the race and see if there’s certain things I can work on, and if there is something I can definitely work on and I think it’s a positive step, then I’ll be back tomorrow,” Gatlin said.