Allyson Felix Pursues a Track Record for Most Olympic Medals
During a Summer Olympics where almost nothing is recognizable – no fans, no cheers, no Michael Phelps, no Usain Bolt – Allyson Felix’s presence is particularly familiar, almost heartwarming.
It’s the Summer Olympics, so of course Felix is running for a gold on the track.
She made her debut at the age of 18 representing the United States at the Athens Games in 2004 and has barely given up since: she won one medal in Athens, two in Beijing in 2008, three in London in 2012 and three from Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She also has 19 world championship medals.
With nine Olympic medals (six gold and three silver), Felix is tied with Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey as the most decorated Olympian in athletics.
If she won a 10th Olympic medal on Friday in the 400-meter final – and even an 11th on Saturday in the 4×400-meter relay – she would match or surpass Carl Lewis, who had 10, as America’s most decorated athlete on track. and terrain. (Paavo Nurmi from Finland has the most Olympic medals in sport in total, 12.)
Felix’s legacy is already forming in the alleys around her. 23-year-old Canadian Kyra Constantine has admired Felix since she was a young girl.
“As I lined up, I was super excited: I got to run alongside my idol, who has always been my idol, Allyson Felix,” said Constantine after his run to the semi-final. Constantine did not qualify for the final, but it was not a priority. She ran down hall 3. Felix ran down hall 6.
She spoke of having met Felix years ago, when Constantine was in his first year in college and Felix was on campus. She still has the photo.
“I try not to cry, you know I have to run so I can’t cry on the line,” she said.
For a while, there was no guarantee that Felix would make it to the start line for these Games.
In November 2018, she gave birth to daughter Camryn in an emergency Cesarean section at 32 weeks. Felix suffered from severe preeclampsia, which put his life and that of his daughter in danger. Camryn was in the neonatal intensive care unit for weeks.
“There were a lot of times I was skeptical,” said Felix after qualifying for Friday’s 400-meter final, finishing second behind Stephenie Ann McPherson of Jamaica for the automatic qualification.
Felix’s first return to exercise after Camryn was born was a 30-minute walk, baby steps for a runner who could time a run of less than 50 seconds over 400 yards. It took a while to get back to his standard grueling workouts.
“When I was younger I don’t think I ever thought about making a final,” she said. “It’s a rewarding experience, but it’s also very rewarding to see the progress. “
Gone are the days of flying through the towers without thinking about it, assuming the final round was as certain as her qualification for the Games. There is more intention now, she said. It’s harder when you get older and you have to get smarter.
“For me it’s only one race at a time,” said Felix. “Refocus, regroup and come back over there. I just have to keep fighting.
His fight to return to these Games included a visit to Congress and a break with his sponsor.
In May 2019, she spoke at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on racial disparities in maternal mortality. She detailed her experience – posing as Camryn’s mother – and pledged to use her platform to talk about the inequalities black women face.
That same month, Felix wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times criticizing the maternity policies of her longtime sponsor Nike. The company, which has highlighted her in major campaigns, declined to guarantee that she would not be punished if she did not reach her highest levels in the months after giving birth. He changed his policy a few weeks after the article was published, although Felix has already decided to leave. She then signed with Athleta.
Felix said he heard from thousands of women – professional athletes and others – who thanked her for her outspokenness or shared their own experiences about motherhood and work.
She will be joined at the start line of the 400-meter final by American Quanera Hayes, who has 2-year-old Demetrius at home. The two qualified for the Games at the US Olympic trials in June, and were immediately joined by their children on the track. Both athletes say their kids are cheering them on on FaceTime during the Olympics. (Even though Demetrius, Hayes said, thinks every runner is called mom.)
“To be moms in the Olympic finals, we just say a lot to all the other moms out there,” Hayes said after qualifying for the final. “And we keep it for all the moms in the world, just to let them know that we have to keep fighting.”
Felix’s fight did not weaken. She arrived in Tokyo with the same hunger that she has had since her first appearance on the world stage. But now she’s also a mother, activist and entrepreneur who has just launched her own shoe brand, Saysh.
She runs on her terms, in her crampons by a company she created, with a generation of runners by her side and behind her.
“She’s done so much for women’s running, for black women, showing kids what’s possible,” Constantine said, still catching his breath. “And the fact that she’s pregnant, that she’s opposed to Nike and that she’s now creating her own line of shoes. With it, anything is possible.
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