Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008

6. Allyson Felix

United States
Age: 22

Allyson Felix won't race past reality. After Marion Jones, who sits in jail because she lied about her steroid use, Felix knows that track can't crown a true queen. We'll always have to wonder if she's clean. "To be questioned is just frustrating," says Felix, 22, who has never failed a drug test. Neither had Jones. "But I understand."

Once again, the U.S. sprinters will have a cloud trailing them to the Olympics. Doping has ripped the sport like a track spike tearing a tendon, and it's up to athletes like Felix, the defending world champ in the 200 m, to heal it. She's the ideal savior — young and telegenic, with a smile as wide as a hurdle. She's participating in a pilot program, Project Believe, in which athletes undergo extensive blood and urine analyses that go beyond the World Anti-Doping Agency's guidelines. If Felix is doping, you might just as well put down the starting guns for good.

Felix was the first U.S. track athlete to turn pro right out of high school, and she won a 200-m silver in Athens. At last year's worlds, she became the second woman to win three golds — in the 200 m and in the 4 x 100-m and 4 x 400-m relays. She could do it again in Beijing. "The last person I saw with pickup like Allyson," says her coach, Bob Kersee, "was Wilma Rudolph" — an all-time great. To rescue track, Felix needs to be that good. And clean.