LONDON — Allyson Felix’s running style is so elegant it’s easy for her to lapse into floating like a butterfly when she should sting like a bee.
“It’s a gift and a curse because it looks very fluid,” she said. “It’s nice, but sometimes you have to get into an aggressive mode.”
It took the Los Angeles native until her third Olympics to develop that edge, an odyssey that included silver medals in the 200 meters at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 and a fifth-place finish in the 100 meters last week.
When it all clicked in her mind Wednesday, she hunted down her dream instead of gliding toward it and finally realized her golden vision.
Aggressive from the first step and every stride through 200 meters, Felix won her first individual Olympic gold medal in 21.88 heart-pounding seconds, lunging across the finish line ahead of two-time Olympic 100-meter champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and London 100-meter silver medalist Carmelita Jeter of the U.S.
On the day U.S. track and field athletes won three of four events and seven of 12 possible medals — the best single-day U.S. haul since a nine-medal spree in six events on Aug. 6, 1992 — Felix’s triumph was the longest in coming and, perhaps, the hardest won.
“I think the moments that motivated me most was losing on the biggest stage. We talked even today about going back to that,” Felix said.
“At the time, I said I would trade all those world championship medals for the gold, and now I’m able to just say that I embrace that journey. I embrace the defeats because that’s what has pushed me all these years and makes tonight very, very sweet.”
Fraser-Pryce was timed in a personal-best 22.09 seconds, with Jeter, in Lane 9, powering her way to the finish in 22.14 seconds.
Veronica Campbell-Brown, Felix’s nemesis at Athens and Beijing, was fourth in 22.38 seconds. Sanya Richards-Ross of the U.S., who won gold in the 400, was fifth in 22.39 seconds.
Jeter became the first American woman to win medals in the 100 and 200 in the same games since Florence Griffith-Joyner did it in 1988.
“I was just so happy and proud of myself to get back on that podium,” Jeter said. “This is my first Olympic Games and I’m so happy and blessed right now, and I’m very excited for Allyson to get her gold medal. It’s been great.”
The U.S. went 1-2 in the men’s 110-hurdles.
Aries Merritt won in a personal-best 12.92 seconds, beating Jason Richardson (13.04).
“Everyone has their time,” Merritt said. “Everyone has their moment when they’re just sizzling, they’re on fire. This time it was me.
“I proved myself finally on the biggest stage of my life.”
World record-holder Dayron Robles of Cuba didn’t finish the race. He appeared to pull a leg muscle and stopped, then knocked over a hurdle with his hand in apparent frustration.
“Going 1-2, it says we are a major global power when it comes to hurdling,” Richardson said. “We will show we are the best track and field nation in the world.”
Merritt, 27, had been the hurdler to beat this season. The 12.93 he ran in three consecutive races before the Olympics was the top time in the world.
“In the hurdles, you have to stay on your feet,” Merritt said. “If you don’t stay on your feet, then you don’t make the podium. If you don’t run a clean race, then it costs you.”
But Wednesday belonged to Felix, who turned two painful Olympic losses into the biggest moment of her life.
“I just think it hasn’t completely sunk in yet,” she said. “I just crossed the line and said, ‘Thank you, Lord. It’s been a long time coming.’ ”