Allyson Felix at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 6, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO – Coming home in her last individual Olympic race, Allyson Felix knew just what she had to do.
“Fight. Dig,” she said.
The five-time Olympian gave everything she had to cross the finish line in the women’s 400 meters, then lay on her back on the track in sheer exhaustion.
And Felix felt something else: “Just joy.”
She won her 10th Olympic medal Friday at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, her first bronze to go along with six golds and three silvers.
“I feel like all the other ones I was really just so focused on the performance,” Felix said, “and this one, it’s so much bigger than that. I was out there running, but I felt like I was a representation for so much more than just trying to get down the track.”
Unlike her first four Olympic Games, Felix said, “Nobody thought I was going to be here.”
Since giving birth to her daughter Camryn after a difficult delivery in November 2018, the 35-year-old has worked relentlessly to regain her fitness while becoming an advocate for mothers in sports.
Felix didn’t just fight to get back to the Olympic Games; she fought to get back to feeling like herself again.
And yet as a fan of track and field, Felix said, “I hear the chatter. I think people thought it was a long shot for me to even be on the U.S. team and then I knew I wasn’t a pick for the medals, but just give me a shot.”
She got that shot when she qualified second in the Olympic Trials behind Quanera Hayes.
Yet even after Felix reached the Olympic final, the odds were stacked against her. Felix was in Lane 9, which is so far outside she’d feel like she was running her race alone. Felix wouldn’t be able to see the other runners until they rounded the final curve.
When she did, she knew a medal was within her grasp. “I always believe in myself, “ Felix said.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas dominated the race, winning by almost a second with a personal best of 48.36 seconds. She became only the second woman in history to win two 400-meter titles in a row, joining Marie-Jose Perec of France (1992-96). And in contrast to 2016, when Miller Uibo edged Felix, this time she didn’t have to dive at the line.
Marileidy Paulino of Dominican Republic set a national record of 49.20 to win the silver medal.
Felix didn’t set any records with her time of 49.46 seconds, the fastest she’s run since posting her personal best of 49.26 seconds in 2015, but it cemented her legacy.
Felix is now the most decorated female track and field athlete in Olympic history. She came into Tokyo needing just one medal to break a tie with Merlene Ottey of Jamaica. She also has now tied Carl Lewis for most medals by a Team USA track and field athlete, and could move ahead of him on Saturday if she runs a leg on the women’s 4 x 400-meter relay and wins another medal.
“I hope so,” Felix said of her chances of running on the relay, knowing full well that she’s an obvious choice.
Felix has been an Olympian for nearly half of her life. She was only 18 when she won her first Olympic medal in 2004, a silver in the 200 meters.
“I was a teenager and didn’t know what to expect and everything was new and I evolved along the way,” she said.
Felix won another silver in 2008 in the 200, then captured the gold in 2012. Switching to the 400, she earned the silver in 2016.
The other five gold medals came on relays: the 4 x 400 in 2008, and both the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 in London as well as Rio.
“I’m very grateful for everyone who’s come before me,” said Felix, who has also won a record 17 world championships medals, including 12 golds. “I have so much respect and admiration. I wouldn’t be here without those who paved the way, and I’m just grateful for my own journey. I love the sport and it’s been so good to me.”
She’s grown up in the sport and feels like a lot of people have grown up with her.