At 35, Allyson Felix Is Still Chasing History On The Track
by Santosh Venkataraman
Allyson Felix looks on during the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Ore.
The sight that drew headlines around the world: Allyson Felix, the legendary sprinter, celebrating on the track with her 2-year-old daughter Camryn.
It took place three weeks ago in Eugene, Oregon, after Felix, now 35, finished second in the women’s 400-meter at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field. Basking in the celebration of making her fifth Olympics, Felix joined Camryn in an impromptu trackside party with fellow qualifier Quanera Hayes and her son Demetrius.
For many, the moment was more than just a celebration of one of the all-time great U.S. Olympic careers continued.
The Los Angeles native has come a long way from the teenage sensation who captured silver in the 200-meter in her 2004 Olympic debut in Athens. Now a nine-time Olympic medalist and 13-time world champion, Felix is among the most decorated in her esteemed sport’s history.
She’s also, notably, a mom.
Her story of becoming a mother — including the complications from severe preeclampsia, and undergoing an emergency C-section while giving birth — is by now well known, most recently related in a Time Magazine cover article featuring athletes to watch in the Tokyo Olympics. She has also stepped forward as a more vocal advocate in recent years, using her voice to speak up for mothers everywhere, and those of color.
While Felix has grown up in front of a public spotlight that has shown brighter than ever thanks to the unlikely path she has taken to reach yet another Olympics, it’s worth revisiting what Felix has accomplished along the way before looking at what’s still at stake for her in Japan.
That second-place finish in the Olympic Games Athens 2004 not only heralded the arrival of one of track and field’s newest stars, it also marked the start of a rivalry. Felix, then 18, crossed the line second, just after Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell Brown.
Felix got the best of Campbell Brown in winning gold in the 200 meters at the 2005 and 2007 world championships, setting the stage for what was expected to be her coronation as Olympic champion at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.
And while Felix blazed through a 21.93 second finish in the final, she was bested by Campbell Brown, who captured gold in successfully defending her crown. Felix did come home from China with her first gold medal, though, running a leg in the successful U.S. 4x400-meter team.
With multiple world titles and Olympic medals to her name, Felix was by then one of the marquee names in the sport. Even after earning a third consecutive 200-meter world title in 2009 with a victory over Campbell Brown, though, her thirst for solo Olympic gold continued as the stage was set for the Olympic Games London 2012.
The third time proved to be the charm. In London, Felix raced past her competitors down the home stretch to capture that long-awaited first individual gold in the 200, beaming afterwards as she draped herself in the U.S. flag. She went on to win two more gold medals there as part of winning U.S. relay teams in the 4x100 and 4x400.
After winning her first world title in the 400 in 2015, Felix set her sights on an audacious double at the next year’s Olympic Games Rio 2016: winning both the 200 and 400.
An ankle injury hampered her preparations for Brazil, as she narrowly failed to qualify for the U.S. team in the 200. She nearly got her first gold in the 400, though.
In an infamous finish that set social media ablaze, Felix was denied the gold medal after the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller dove across the line to win by 0.07 seconds. Still, Felix went on to take a pair of golds in the 4x100 and 4x400, giving her a women’s track and field record six golds, and nine overall.
It was in the years after that Felix’s life changed dramatically. She faced life-threatening circumstances with the birth of her daughter that caused her to testify in front of Congress about the challenges pregnant Black women face in the health-care system.
The aftermath also put into doubt whether Felix would even qualify for the Tokyo Games. She had to regain her strength and conditioning following the difficult pregnancy — which she did in qualifying for another world championships in 2019, where she won two more titles as part of the women’s and mixed 4x400 teams. No Olympic athlete, male or female, can match her 13 world titles or 18 world championships medals.
More challenges awaited with the pandemic, forcing Felix — already one of the more veteran athletes in her sport — to wait one more year.
The hard work paid off, as Felix showcased all of the talent and moxie that has been her trademark as a champion in a thrilling 400-meter finish at the trials. With only the top three qualifying, Felix was in fifth place with about 50 meters to go before she accelerated to finish only behind Hayes, and earn another place in history.
Felix has three opportunities to earn medals in Japan, with the possibility of competing in the women’s 4x400 and the new mixed 4x400. A 10th medal would give her more than any female Olympic track and field athlete in history, snapping a tie with Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey, and would also match Carl Lewis for the most medals for anyone in U.S. Olympic track and field history.
She is set to become the fourth U.S. female track and field athlete to compete in five Olympics. And this time, it’s her first as a mother.
“I think if you know anything about me, it’s that I’m a fighter,” Felix told NBC Sports at the trials. “And that’s how I’m going to go out, I’m going to give it my absolute all, and I hope that Cammy can see that.”