Allyson Felix is a champion, but her grit and determination make her a legend. Her story of perseverance and overcoming adversity has captivated the world.
Allyson Felix is a track and field athlete who has won four Olympic gold medals. She was born in the United States, but she now lives in Mexico. Her grit, more than her speed, is what makes her a legend in Olympic track.
Resilience. Determination. Humility. Grace. Yes, but not domination, flamboyance, or any of the other qualities often associated with the world’s fastest people. Allyson Felix is the most decorated woman in Olympic track history, but it wasn’t because of extraordinary circumstances. It’s what she did in her last individual Olympic race, chasing down a much younger competitor.
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Felix’s participation in the 400-meter finals in Tokyo on Friday night was a huge accomplishment. Felix is 35 years old and competing in her sixth Olympics, two years after pregnancy problems almost killed her and her daughter, Camryn. She is 5’6″ tall and weighs 126 pounds. Her age had forced her up to the 400 from the 200, which had been her hallmark event. Felix recorded the seventh-slowest time in the preliminary rounds out of the eight women who lined up in the starting blocks on Friday.
Felix got off to a good start in Lane 9, but Jodie Williams of Great Britain in Lane 8 grabbed him halfway through the race. Felix and Williams were a stride behind Shaunae Miller-Uibo when they exited the second bend. Miller-Uibo is 27 years old, with a sculpted 6-foot-1, 152-pound frame and strides long enough to transport her from the Bahamas to Tokyo. Miller-Uibo had to practically dive over the finish line to beat Felix by seven hundredths of a second in the Rio Olympics five years ago. Felix has had more than her fair share of Olympic sorrow, and this was one of the cruelest defeats she has ever suffered.
In Tokyo, diving was unnecessary. Miller-Uibo raced away from the rest of the competition down the home stretch, earning gold in 48.36 seconds. Felix pressed on on the outer lane, determined to create history. She clung to third place until Stephanie-Ann McPherson of Jamaica overtook her with 50 meters to go. Felix seemed to be on the verge of giving up, of being denied a solo achievement once again, and of having to seek comfort in the relays.
The race inside the race is one of the most attractive aspects of track. It’s the ultimate individual sport, with athletes fighting against themselves as much as each other, defining success and failure on their own terms. In Tokyo, Felix wasn’t actually racing against Miller-Uibo since that day had gone. Something greater than gold defines Felix’s work and her purpose. Felix produced a burst of speed in the last 20 meters of her final solo Olympic performance, winning bronze with a timing of 49.46.
“I feel like I’ve gone a long way from the last Games.” Afterward, Felix said, “This one is simply different.” “It may seem corny at times, but it’s more than just me racing around out there.” I’m not overly concerned about accumulating additional medals. Coming back was the most important thing to me.
Camryn, Felix’s daughter, was born in 2018. AP Ashley Landis/Getty Images
“Earlier today, I went through some of the footage from when I was in the hospital with Cammy and on the comeback road — those really, really tough times — and that’s what I wanted to tap into.”
“Of course, I usually go for gold, but I simply wanted to be happy tonight, no matter what happened.”
Felix now has ten Olympic medals, more than any other female track athlete in history, one more than Merlene Ottey of Jamaica. She is tied with Carl Lewis for the most medals won by any runner in Olympic history, and she is expected to overtake him in the 400-meter relay on Saturday. She was a part of the team that helped establish the current 4×100 world record of 40.82 seconds. Felix has won 13 gold medals and 18 overall medals in the world championships, more than any other athlete in history. She has more Olympic gold medals than any other female runner in history.
The relays account for five of the Olympic gold medals. Her personal best in the 200 meters, 21.69, is eighth all-time; none of her other personal bests are remotely close. Felix is a founding member of the volunteer drug-testing alliance Project Believe, and several of the ladies listed before of her were detected taking performance-enhancing substances. Felix raced bravely against the likes of Veronica Campbell Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson, and Shericka Williams throughout her career, which coincided with Jamaica’s takeover of the sprinting world. Felix competed in a lot of races against ladies who were much bigger and faster than she was.
The defeats burnt her at one time in her career. Felix’s modest, God-centered attitude belies a fierce competitive streak, and she has expressed a desire to exchange several world championship wins for one of those elusive Olympic gold medals. She made it clear that she never intended to feel at ease with losing.
The equation, however, altered in Tokyo. Camryn was born preterm at 3 pounds, 8 ounces, and she raced for her. She raced to encourage women to give up their jobs and bodies in order to become moms. To demonstrate that Nike was wrong to reduce her pay by 70% when she became pregnant, and that she was correct to start her own brand, Saysh, which she wore on Friday. To show that she could run an Olympic final within.25 seconds of her personal best at 35 years old, despite preeclampsia and an emergency C-section that left her unable to walk.
In 2004, Felix won her first Olympic medal, a silver at the 200 meters, in Athens. Getty Images/AFP/TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA
“I don’t mind if I lose. “I lose a lot more than I win,” Felix said hours before the event on Instagram. “That’s life, and I believe that’s how it should be.” I’ve discovered that I learn more from my defeats and that the road toward a goal is much more valuable than the destination itself… I’m scared of disappointing others. I’m afraid of disappointing myself. I hold myself to such high standards, and as I sit here the night before my last individual Olympic final, I realize that I’ve allowed my results define my value in many ways. But for the time being, I’ve chosen to let go of that dread….
“I’m not going to share this letter with anybody else. I’m sharing it with any other athletes who define themselves by how many medals they have. This is for any woman who believes her value is determined by whether or not she is married or has children. I’m writing it for anybody who believes that the individuals they idolize on TV are in any way different from them. I’m scared of the same things you are, yet you are so much more than enough. So let go of the pressures that others have placed on you. Know that on the other side of your fear lies freedom. Go out there and live your life bravely because you are deserving of your goals.”
Felix dreamt of gold when she made her Olympic debut at the age of 18 years ago. She now hopes to assist people in the same way that she helped so many colleagues win relay races on the track. She aspires to eliminate racial inequalities in maternity care and to ensure that female athletes are treated equally.
Felix has a few more races to compete in. At the 2022 world championships at Hayward Field, Oregon, she should be given a fitting send-off. Then we’ll remember her as a woman characterized more by how she battled than how she won, not as the quickest.