Allyson Felix, a 17-year-old high school track star, runs in the Women's 100m race at the Home Depot Track Invitational.
Allyson Felix, a 17-year-old high school track star, runs in the Women's 100m race at the Home Depot Track Invitational.

The future of U.S. track, a 17-year-old sprinter from Southern California, is coming to Stanford this weekend.

Allyson Felix has the personality to become the sport's next great star. She also has the speed. At 5-foot-6 and 125 pounds, she glides down the homestretch with the power of a V-8 engine.

``When I first saw her I said, `This is the next one,' '' said Quincy Watts, the 1992 Olympic gold-medal winner in the 400 meters who coaches at Taft High in Woodland Hills. ``If she's patient, there's no reason she can't be out there doing the same things Marion Jones is.''

Jones won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, the only woman to earn that many in a single Olympics. Based on Felix's recent performance -- she owns the world's fastest time this year in the 200 meters -- she and Jones might be teammates at the 2004 Athens Games.

The U.S. outdoor championships this weekend at Stanford represent a major stride in that direction. If Felix can finish among the top three in Sunday's final (the prelims are Saturday), she will qualify for the world championships in August in Paris.

``This has been the big event we've been working toward,'' said Felix, who will graduate from Los Angeles Baptist High on Friday before flying to the Bay Area. ``It would definitely be nice to establish myself, but my main goal is to make the team.''

She blazed onto the scene in April when she broke Jones' U.S. junior record with a time of 22.51 seconds at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays. Felix beat a field that included U.S. stars Inger Miller (1999 world outdoor champion) and Angela Williams (four-time NCAA champion in the 100).

In May, Felix broke the 23-year-old world junior record with a 22.11 in front of a reported 50,000 fans in Mexico City. High altitude played a role -- the world's fastest three times were posted during that race. Still, Felix owns three of the top five outdoor times by Americans this year, and the 22.11 was faster than any winning time at the Olympics since 1976.

Felix's meteoric rise has coincided with Jones' one-year sabbatical; she plans to resume training after her first child is born this summer.

With Jones sidelined, and word quickly spreading about Felix, comparisons began whirling. Both are Southern California natives, high school state champions and charismatic figures.

A showdown is looming, perhaps at next year's U.S. Olympic trials in Sacramento. Jones, whose best 200 time is 21.62, had won five consecutive national titles in the 100 and 200.

``I understand where people are coming from when they make the comparison, and I take that as a compliment,'' Felix said. ``But I also want to be something different. I'm my own person.''

Felix's ascent has been rapid. She didn't take the sport seriously until her freshman year, yet placed seventh at the state final. Her times in the 200 fell at a staggering rate; each year, she dropped about four-tenths of a second. A two-time state champion by her senior season, Felix broke Jones' national high school and state meet record in the 200 on June 7 at Cerritos College in Norwalk with a time of 22.52.

Her high school coach, Jonathon Patton, thinks someone will need to run under 22 seconds to beat her this weekend.

``Somewhere there's a limit,'' he said, ``but I don't know what that is.''

Former U.S. star Florence Griffith Joyner, who died at age 38 from suffocation after an epileptic seizure, is the world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meters. Her time of 21.34 seconds in the 200 seems unbreakable.

``Ultimately I'd love to have some of the records,'' Felix said. ``Right now I'm looking to place well, and, with competition, my times will come.''

Felix has accepted a scholarship offer from USC -- her brother Wes is also a sprinter there -- but she hasn't shut the door on turning pro. Felix's performance this weekend could play a significant role in her decision.

``Is she capable of coming straight to the professional level?'' asked gold-medal sprinter Maurice Greene. ``She is.''

Recently featured in USA Today and in Sports Illustrated (with a small photo on the magazine's cover), Felix has taken the media attention in stride. Her father, Paul, an ordained minister, and her mother, Marlena, an elementary school teacher, help keep Felix on solid ground. She carries herself without a hint of arrogance.

``The sport couldn't ask for a better diplomat,'' Patton said. ``She has assumed the identity of a world-class athlete in dignity and grace. She's very much aware of the excitement that's been generated -- without taking credit for it.''

USA Track and Field featured Felix on a recent conference call that resulted in the largest turnout of any news conference this year. With most of the major newspapers on the line, Felix wowed several veteran track reporters, as well as USA track and field CEO Craig Masback, with the way she fielded the questions.

``This was not someone who was handled with kid gloves,'' Masback said. ``They just came right at her. . . . As good as Marion Jones is as an athlete, she is as good or better at answering questions with the media. I would say the same thing about Allyson Felix. You can't really teach that.''

Felix welcomes the possibility of being the new face of track and field. And she realizes it means she is closer to achieving her goal of competing in the Olympics.

``All the time I think about it,'' Felix said. ``But I also understand things take time and I'm still new to sprinting and there's a lot I need to learn. So I'm willing to be patient with it.''

Mercury News Staff Writer Elliott Almond contributed to this report. Contact Mark Gomez at or (408) 920-5869.