March 15, 2016

PAPENDAL, Netherlands (AP) Dafne Schippers is putting in long hours to shave fractions of seconds off her starts.

The 200-meter world champion and 100-meter silver medalist, who two years ago switched from the grueling heptathlon to primarily focus on sprinting, knows that getting out of the blocks fast will be key to victory in the 60-meter sprint at this week's world indoor championships in Portland.

''This is the first winter I've trained as a sprinter so I've been able to dedicate much more time to my starts,'' Schippers told The Associated Press shortly before flying to Oregon. ''You can see in my results that we've made a lot of progress with starts. That was very important to be able to take the next step, also with an eye to the 100 and 200 meters. So it's just a case of investing more time.''

Her coach, Bart Bennema, said there is no short cut to improving starts; it's just a case of putting in a lot of hard work on small improvements to technique and then practicing. A lot.

He said Schippers worked on her body position as she crouches ready to spring into action.

''How she is setting in the blocks and how she gets out of the blocks, the first two, three steps (are crucial),'' Bennema said. ''Just by doing it ... and just repeat. It's as simple as that. Over and over again. It's repetition.''

The drills are already paying off for the 23-year-old sprinter that Dutch fans are comparing to Fanny Blankers-Koen, the sporting icon who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics.

Last year, Schippers won the 200-meter world title in Beijing thanks to her blistering late acceleration. She was second to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100 in part because the event wasn't quite far enough to allow that acceleration to compensate for a sluggish start.

But this season Schippers owns the top three indoor times over 60 meters, with a fastest of exactly 7 seconds matching the 30-year-old Dutch record set by Nellie Cooman.

Schippers now has her eye on owning that Dutch record outright.

''That would be ideal,'' she said. ''I don't know what kind of track they have (in Portland). I don't know if it's a quick track, that's very important in the 60 meters, because it is really about hundredths of seconds.''

Schippers' transformation from a good heptathlete to a world-class sprinter has turned her into a star in the Netherlands - heaping more pressure on her to win and even turning her into a fixture in gossip columns that have reported her relationship with a well-known Dutch DJ.

''It's not something you really want, but it's a fact of life,'' she said of her new status as a Dutch celebrity.

Meanwhile, she said her own drive for success outstrips even the lofty expectations of track fans in the Netherlands.

''Sometimes in the Netherlands people think you can just become world champion,'' Schippers said. ''But I think I put more pressure on myself than the rest of the world, so it doesn't bother me. I can let it go.''

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