Allyson Felix poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Allyson Felix’s daughter Camryn was easy to spot on Mother’s Day. She was the 2-year-old wearing the “My Mom Is Faster Than Your Mom” T-shirt at the USATF Golden Games track meet.
The shirt did not exaggerate.
In her first 200-meter dash of the season, Felix finished second with a wind-aided time of 22.26 seconds behind Gabby Thomas, who clocked 22.12. Felix is 35 years old; Thomas is 24.
While Felix has already hit the mother lode with six Olympic golds – a record for a female track and field athlete – and three silvers for a total of nine medals – she’s ready to dig deep for more.
The Los Angeles native will compete for her fifth straight Olympic team at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field – in Eugene, Oregon, June 18-27.
“This is probably the best that I’ve felt after giving birth so I’m really excited about that and excited to just feel like myself again,” Felix said last month
Both the 200 meters and 400 meters are on the table for Felix at the Trials, depending on how her training unfolds. She’s won individual medals in both events at Olympic Games and world championships. While a 200/400 double is logistically impossible at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 since the events overlap, Felix could be a triple threat on relays: She won three straight Olympic gold medals on the 4 x 400 relay, two in a row on the 4 x 100 relay and also could run the new event for Tokyo, the 4 x 400 mixed relay.
While Felix already has more medals than any other American female track and field athlete in Olympic history, she needs just one more to break a tie with Merlene Ottey of Jamaica as the most decorated female Olympian in the sport. Carl Lewis (nine gold, one silver) holds the record for most Team USA track and field medals.
And don’t forget that Felix is chasing history while also chasing a toddler.
“For me, being Cammy’s mom is the number one job that I have, my biggest accomplishment – it’s amazing,” said Felix, who is married to Kenneth Ferguson. “It's been also really challenging trying to figure out how to do both at the same time. But I'll be able to look back and tell her about this journey, this journey that she's been on as well. And it hasn't been an easy one.”
A Difficult Delivery
Camryn was born Nov. 28, 2018, at 32 weeks following an emergency C-section. Severe pre-eclampsia had threatened the lives of both mother and child. Once her baby was home from the newborn ICU, Felix became an advocate for new mothers who are athletes to receive contractual guarantees from sponsors. Her opinion piece in The New York Times marked the first time she had spoken out on a controversial issue in such a public forum.
“There’s been a lot of fights, a lot of challenges along the way,” said Felix. “But (Camryn) has been the driving force to be able to get through that and she’s really helped me to find my voice and allow me to do things bigger than wanting to run fast. So I’m just so grateful for the blessing that she is. And excited as we get closer for her to experience all this.”
On May 18, Felix ran her first 400 meters since September 2019, clocking 50.88 seconds at the USATF Open in Fort Worth, Texas. Felix went under 51 seconds for the first time since the 2017 season, before she was pregnant with Camryn.
Only six months after giving birth, Felix competed at the 2019 national championships and qualified for worlds by placing sixth in the 400. In October 2019, she won two gold medals in Doha on the 4 x 400 and 4 x 400 mixed relays and became the most decorated athlete – male or female – in world championships history with 18 medals, including 13 golds.
And then the pandemic hit. Upon learning that the Olympic Games would be postponed a year,
Felix said she tried “to give myself space to grieve the loss of not having the Games as scheduled. Obviously, it was something that had to happen. There was such a loss of life and loss of normalcy and jobs and so much loss all around that you felt like you were really going through it with everyone.
“But as an athlete, everything is timing. I feel like my family had made a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to have this opportunity. And so for it not to go according to plan and not look like the way that we had imagined was really difficult.”
Staying Loose During Lockdown
Training through the pandemic has taken creativity and flexibility given the facility closings during the lockdown.
“I would say that the craziest kind of experience was just training in my neighborhood,” Felix said. “I've gone for runs before in my neighborhood, but I never have sprinted through the streets.”
Coach Bob Kersee would come to her house to supervise her workouts. As Felixdescribed the scene, “Bobby measuring with his wheel on literally the street in front of my door” and his “very energetic yelling” drawing the neighbors outside.
Her training group has also trained on the beach and even went to Arizona for several weeks. “As long as there is a surface to run on, we're running,” Felix said. “It has been frustrating to not be able to have a place, but also you get it – you understand. Obviously, we're all going through so much.”
And while she’s always been game for whatever she had to do, Felix said, “It's a bit different now with a 2-year-old in tow and getting the million things that she needs to go somewhere for a month. But my whole village has been very supportive and helpful in helping us navigate through this uncharted territory.”
Felix wouldn’t let her mind wander into thinking that the Olympics could be canceled. “It's such a heavy training period, I couldn't even go there.” she said. “I had to really just focus on the task at hand and deal with whatever else might come – so just really kind a tunnel vision.”
In finding the strength to pivot and keep her energy level high for another year, Felixturned to her gratitude journal. She starts each day “just jotting down things I'm grateful for,” she said, “and a lot of times that's family, health, all those things that we're seeing a lot of people struggle with. And that really helped center me.”
If Felix makes Team USA, it will be her 13th straight Olympic or world team. She captured at least one medal in each of those events except 2013, when she was favored in the 200 and pulled a hamstring in the final.
Fending Off The Next Generation
Now 17 years after Felix made her first Olympic team in 2004, a cadre of 20-somethings is trying to dethrone her.
In the 200, flamboyant sprint sensation Sha’Carri Richardson, Thomas and Jenna Prandini – who edged Felix at the tape in 2016 to earn the final Olympic spot in the 200 – are also in the mix along with Tamara Clark of the University of Alabama.
The 400 offers a better chance to make Team USA because of the deep relay pool. So far this season, Athing Mu, 400-meter-hurdles specialist Shamier Little and Quanera Hayes have broken 50 seconds, while veterans like Wadeline Jonathas, Courtney Okolo, Jessica Beard and 2017 world champion Phyllis Francis are also contenders.
Felix knows what her body can do and has the experience to handle the pressure. “It takes a lot to kind of ruffle my feathers now,” she said. “I know what to expect. And I feel like I’m able to train much smarter. I know when things are going well, when things aren't and what I need to adjust.”
She’ll have to make a major adjustment if Camryn cannot go to Tokyo. Foreign spectators are not allowed.
“The driving force has been this idea that Cammy would be there,” she said, “and I imagined seeing her at the track and all of that. But, obviously, no one knew a pandemic would be coming. So, it's not an ideal situation for anyone.”
No matter what happens, Felix foresees this being her last Olympic campaign. However, the 2022 World Championships are scheduled for Eugene, and she hasn’t ruled out making that her final farewell.
“I haven't just kind of laid it out, like an end date,” she said.
At practices, Felix has a new training partner in Sydney McLaughlin, who is trying to make her second Olympic team after making her first Games when she was in her teens – just like Felix did so many years earlier.
“It's just nice to have her energy in the group and have her talent there,” Felix said of the 400-meter hurdles specialist, “and to hopefully be able to impart any of my experiences that might be helpful to her as she embarks on the beginning of her career. So it's exciting to see.
“I remember when that was me.”