DOHA, Qatar – Perhaps it’s fitting that in a mixed gender event Allyson Felix passed Usain Bolt for most gold medals in world championships history.
Felix, 33, ran the second leg on the mixed 4x400-meter team as Team USA won the gold in world record time Sunday night at the IAAF World Championships.
That gave Felix 12 golds, surpassing the Jamaican legend who retired in 2017 with 11.
Felix also extended her record for most world championships medals to 17, which also includes three silver and two bronze medals.
However, Felix downplayed the achievement of taking sole possession of the title she once shared with Bolt.
“Eh, you know,” Felix said with a laugh. “It’s different. This is a different event, and so I don’t really look at it in that way. For me, it’s just about getting to run a new, fun event and making my way back to the stage.”
While Felix has been a fixture at the world championships since 2005, this was the debut for the mixed team event and also the first world meet for Felix as a mother. Her daughter, Camryn, who is with her in Doha, was born in late November.
Felix’s return to the track was not easy, and she has continued to improve after squeaking into the U.S. relay team pool with a sixth-place finish in the 400-meter at nationals.
Felix and teammates Wil London, Courtney Okolo and Michael Cherry posted the winning time of 3:09.34, giving Felix her second world record.
She was also part of the squad that won gold in the 4x100-meter at the Olympic Games London 2012 with a time of 40.82 seconds.
This time Felix and company broke the previous record of 3:12.42, which lasted roughly 21 hours. The American team of Tyrell Richard, Jessica Beard, Jasmine Blocker and Obi Igbokwe set the first official world record in the event, breaking the three-year-old mark of 3:13.20, which was also held by Team USA, but did not have world record status.
Jamaica placed second with a time of 3:11.78, followed by Bahrain in 3:11.82.
Seven of the eight teams, including Team USA, ran an order of male, female, female, male. Only Poland, which finished fifth, tried a different order: male, male, female, female.
This meant Felix had the baton in the lead, but Rafal Omelko overtook her on the backstretch and built a sizable lead.
Felix said it was “really kind of strange,” running against a man in competition. “He was so far out there that it almost feels like you’re a little out of touch, but I had a lot of confidence in my teammate. I thought things might even up.”
Poland had about a 20-meter lead going into the final leg, but Cherry easily chased down Justyna Swiety-Ersetic.
For Felix, racing the relay was a departure from previous world championships in which she has been busy with individual events and often two relays.
“For me it’s like a stepping-stone,” she said, “getting back here, getting the momentum and feeling really, really motivated and in a good place going into next year.”
Felix said everything she went experienced through the premature birth of Camryn, including switching apparel sponsors, is for her daughter, for other women and for mothers.
“It just brings it all into perspective,” Felix said. “It’s so much bigger than myself. Just having her here and knowing that, it brings it full circle.
“It’s far from over, but I think making it through this year with so much going on, it’s going to make next year feel a lot easier.”
The mixed 4x400 will be the first new track and field event at the Olympic Games since the women’s steeplechase joined the program in 2008.
Reaction to the relay is, well, mixed.
While Felix said it was “fun and exciting and something to kind of mix things up,” one of the biggest names in the sport is not on board.
“I’m not a fan of the event,” multi-Olympic and world champion Carl Lewis told TeamUSA.org. “I don’t see the point.”
While he is not opposed to mixed-gender events, Lewis said he would rather see something like a distance medley event instead of another sprint relay.
Lewis also said that with women running against women and men running against men on most laps, “It’s the same thing” as the regular 4x400 relays.
But when it’s a battle of the sexes on the track, a woman running a 49-second lap “is phenomenal. But an average high school male runs faster.”
However, his Olympic teammate Leroy Burrell said this is another golden opportunity for the United States.
“With our depth, we can run our B team and are still better than what anybody else can do, except maybe Jamaica,” said Burrell, who is the head coach at the University of Houston. Lewis is a coach on his staff.
In the preliminaries, Japan tried a different order, with a woman leading off followed by two men, and then the second woman anchoring. The Japanese placed eighth in their heat, nearly a second behind the Germans in seventh.
“They tried something bold,” Lewis said, “but only got rolled.”