AMERICA’S MOST-BEMEDALED track star ever (see sidebar) knows time isn’t on her side—and while one might assume the Tokyo postponement made her road even harder, Allyson Felix isn’t rattled at all. “I’ve really been trying to focus on the positives of it,” the long-sprinter supreme says at age 34.
“Having more time to be able to get stronger and get back to be more of myself after having Cammy. There’s the natural, you know, wondering about getting a year older and all of that. But I’m really just trying to focus on getting stronger, getting faster and just trying to use my time to the best of my ability to be more prepared.”
Felix and her husband, former World-Ranked 400 hurdler Kenneth Ferguson, had their daughter Camryn in November of ’18. Since then she has been on a mission to return to form and break her tie with Jamaican Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female Olympic track athlete ever (each has 9 medals). (Continued below)
Last season, she admits, was a struggle, placing 6th in the USATF 400 only 8 months after giving birth, hitting a season best of 51.36—ignoring ’12, when she didn’t run one, her slowest since ’04—and earning her record 17th career World Championship medal by running in the 4×4 heats in Doha.
In the 200, if she makes the ’21 team, she will be the second-oldest American in that event ever (Carmelita Jeter was 36 in ’12). All told, only 4 Americans have ever made the 200 squad past age 30. In the 400, the age question is even more daunting. Never before has Team USA selected a woman who has been older than 33 (Jearl Miles-Clark in ’00). And only one other has been over 30—Felix herself in ’16.
Having an additional 12 months to bounce back from maternity, thanks to the pandemic, is not an insubstantial advantage, even if the quarantine made workouts more difficult. “It definitely affected my training,” she says. “In California it’s still a real challenge to get onto the track. They’re not open and it’s been difficult. We’ve had to get really creative. At the very beginning of the pandemic we were training on streets and trails and open fields.
“Things have gotten slightly better. Once we knew that the Olympics were going to be postponed and the Trials were going to be postponed, we really had to shift our training strategy just to be able to save something and be at my best for next year.”
The big question, as it has been for much of her career, is which event she will be pointing toward. After winning 200 silver in her first two Games, she captured the gold in ’12. Four years later she made her strongest bid in the 400, going to the line with Shaunae Miller-Uibo and getting silver in 49.51, just 0.07 behind the Bahamian’s tumble.
“I definitely plan to compete in both throughout the year,” she forecasts. “I haven’t really decided exactly which one I’ll move forward with. I might run both at the Trials. I’m just not exactly sure yet. So I’m going to prepare to still compete in both.”
And a relay, if she gets the call, with that possibility made somewhat easier by the addition of the mixed 4×4 to the program. “I’ll be focusing on competing in an individual event, but you know I love the relays. They’re one of my favorite parts. So if I’m able to be helpful, then I’m always down for that.”
Will it be her last year of competition? She hesitates, then says, “I haven’t put a period on it yet. My goal right now is to make my fifth Olympic team. And I haven’t really looked too much past that. I don’t have plans to go too much past that, but right now, I haven’t even really thought about what the year after that looks like.”
In any event, the mature Felix is not the same athlete who made her first Worlds team as a 17-year-old high schooler who was nicknamed “Chicken Legs” by her teammates. “The journey has changed me,” she admits. “I’ve seen a drastic change since I became a mother in just my motivation. I’ve always been a really competitive person and that’s always been my drive. And now it’s really shifted due to having Camryn and wanting to show her what hard work looks like and overcoming adversity—just being able to continue and push forward.
“I don’t think I ever really saw it, that that was going to be something that happens. It’s been a really nice shift in putting things into perspective and seeing where they fit in my world.”
Perspective is everything now for Felix. She admits, “I wish I would have learned younger that it’s not just about the end goal. I think I’ve placed so much emphasis on trying to get the gold medal and missing some of the magic along the way, and just understanding that sort of growth. You learn so much about yourself along the way, I wish I could have embraced that more when I was younger.
“I’ve been blessed to have a really fulfilling career. At the point where I am now in my life, I’m a lot more understanding and grateful for the experiences. When I was younger, I might have felt more pressure. But now I feel like each moment is something I want to cherish and give my all. When things don’t go exactly right, I’m able to put that in perspective and see the bigger picture and where sport falls in my life. My family is at the top of that list.”
Older and wiser, Felix still has the final chapters of her track history to write, though she staked her place as a legend long ago. It’s not like she thinks about that much. “I think there’s a responsibility that comes along with having had this career, but I don’t feel the weight of it every time I step on the track.”