Motherhood Doesnt Slow Down 400-Meter Stars Quanera Hayes And Allyson Felix At Olympic Trials

by Rich Sands

Allyson Felix and her daughter, Camryn, after qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 at U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track and Field on June 20, 2021 in Eugene, Ore.


EUGENE, Oregon — Sunday was Father's Day, but at Hayward Field it might as well have been Mother's Day. Quanera Hayes and Allyson Felix finished first and second in the women's 400-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field and celebrated with their young children in a touching post-race moment.

It was a historic achievement for the 35-year-old Felix, who qualified for her fifth consecutive Olympic team (but first as a mother). Since 2004 she has won nine medals, including six gold, which makes her the most decorated American woman in Olympic track and field history. 

Hayes won the race in 49.78 seconds, her fastest time since winning the 2017 U.S. title in a personal best 49.72. Behind her, Felix won a tight battle for the runner-up spot, clocking a season's best time of 50.02 to edge out Wadeline Jonathas by one-hundredth of a second. Those three will represent Team USA at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 next month, with Hayes and Jonathas making their Olympic debuts.

It's been a long road back for both Hayes and Felix, who gave birth to their first children within weeks of each other in the fall of 2018. Hayes' son Demetrius and Felix's daughter Camryn joined their mothers on the track after the race for celebratory hugs and high-fives. 

"Coming back was very tough," recalled the 29-year-old Hayes, who finished eighth at the 2016 trials. "I had to learn how to run all over again. I couldn't come out of blocks, my stride was different. I would do one run in practice and I would just stop because it would just hurt and I would get discouraged because I wasn't hitting my times."

She failed to break 53 seconds in 2018, 2019 and 2020, but finally started to regain top form this spring. Coming into Sunday's final she blocked out all distractions. "I knew I was going to come out and I was going to have to fight," she said. "So when that gun went off I literally just emptied everything out of my mind and I just went for it. I pumped my arms when I got on that [final] straight and I didn't look back, I didn’t look to the side. I went for it."

Heading into that homestretch, Felix was back in sixth place. But she poured on her trademark closing speed to pick off everyone in front of her, save Hayes. "I just told myself before the race that when it comes to it, I have to fight," said Felix, who famously took the silver medal behind a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas in the 400 at the Rio Games. "And that's been a theme of mine for the past couple of years. I was going to give my all and leave it all on the track."

The scariest moments were surrounding the birth of Camryn, who was delivered by emergency Caesarean section in November 2018 at 32 weeks. Felix was suffering from severe preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that is characterized by high blood pressure, among other symptoms. After a long hospital stay, Camryn finally came home with Felix and her husband, Kenneth Ferguson, and has been healthy and happy since. 

Though Felix has kept a low profile in the past, she's proud to be an example for other mothers. "Society tells us a lot of times that you have a child and your best moments are behind you, but that's absolutely not the case," said Felix. "I am representation of that. Quanera is."

At the finish line the two women shared a moment when Hayes thanked Felix for all the work she's done to advocate for better maternity care for Black women and in the fight for proper maternity benefits for professional track and field athletes. "I thanked her for being who she was and never giving up," Hayes said. "I have looked up to Allyson for a very long time and to go through this with her as a mom makes it even more special."

Michael Norman Wins the Men's 400
In Sunday's men's 400 final, Michael Norman came out on top of an incredibly competitive field, clocking 44.07, a season's best. He held off Michael Cherry (44.35), who briefly challenged Norman down the homestretch, and NCAA champion Randolph Ross (44.74) of North Carolina A&T. 

All three men are Olympic rookies, but Norman had signaled his potential back at the 2016 trials, when he finished sixth in the 200 as an a 18-year-old fresh out of high school. "It's been five long years, so just being able to come out here and check one more box on my dream list is an amazing feeling," he said. "Half the work is done now so now it's just to move on up to the Olympics and seal the deal."

Rich Sands is a New York City-based freelance editor and writer and has been a correspondent for Track & Field News since 1995, covering the sport at the high school, college and professional levels. He was previously an editor at TV Guide Magazine, overseeing the magazine's Olympic coverage.