Allyson Felix the most decorated female track and field Olympian in history | Sunday Observer

Allyson Felix the most decorated female track and field Olympian in history

10 October, 2021
Allyson Felix ends her Olympic career at Tokyo 2020
Allyson Felix ends her Olympic career at Tokyo 2020

Allyson Felix, OLY secured two more Olympic medals in Tokyo 2020 to become the most decorated female athlete in the 125-year Olympic history and also to become the first female track and field athlete ever to win seven Olympic gold medals. With her eleven Summer Olympic Games medals – seven gold, three silver and one bronze, she is also the most decorated American track and field athlete in history.

Felix has stood on the Summer Olympic podium at least once in the past five Olympics – Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. She shared a touching moment with her daughter, Camry Grace at the US Olympic trials and Tokyo 2020 Olympics marked Felix’ first as a mother. At 35, Felix is also the oldest American woman to ever win a track and field Olympic gold.

Felix currently holds the title of the most decorated athlete, male or female, in World Athletics Championship history as well with 18 World Championship medals. Allyson Felix was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and 2021.

Her racing repertoire spans 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m and 4x400m. Felix played a key role on the US relay teams, winning six Olympic gold medals: four consecutive medals at 4x400m (2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020), and two at 4x100m (2012 and 2016).

She is a five-time recipient of the Jesse Owens/Jackie Joyner Kersee Award, an accolade given by the United States Track and Field to commend the chosen athlete of the year. She also received the 2012 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Female World Athlete of the Year award.

Birth and Growth

Allyson Michelle Felix was born on November 18, 1985. Her father, Paul, an ordained minister was a professor at the Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California. Her mother, Marlean, was an elementary school teacher. Her older brother Wes Felix, a sprinter now serves as her agent. Felix describes her running ability as a gift from God: “For me, my Faith is the reason I run. I definitely feel I have this amazing gift that God has blessed me with, and it’s all about using it to the best of my ability.”

Felix attended Los Angeles Baptist High School in California, where she was nicknamed “Chicken Legs” by her teammates, as the five-foot-six, 125-pound sprinter’s body had skinny legs. Felix credits much of her early success to her high school coach, Jonathan Patton.

Felix discovered her talents whilst in grade 9, finishing seventh in 200m. In 2001, at the World Youth Championships, Felix achieved her first international title in 100m. In 2003, she was named the “High School Athlete of the Year.” As a senior, she finished second in 200m at the US Indoor Track and Field Championships.

A few months later, in Mexico City, she ran 200m in 22.11 secs, the fastest in history for a high school girl. Felix graduated in 2003, making headlines by forgoing college eligibility to sign a professional contract with Adidas. Later, Adidas picked up her college tuition at the University of Southern California where she graduated with a degree in elementary education.

Athens 2004 Olympic Games

At 17, she finished second in 200m with 22.59 secs at the 2003 US national championships, earning her spot to the 2003 Paris World Championships where she finished sixth in the quarter-finals clocking 23.33 secs.

At 18, Felix earned an Olympic silver medal in 200m at Athens 2004; in doing so, she set a world junior record of 22.18 secs. After Athens, Felix and her coach Pat Connolly parted. The young sprinter then sought the tutelage of Bob Kersee, whom she would train under for the next 18 years.

At 19, she became the youngest world champion ever in 200m at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships. At the 2007 Osaka World Championships, she beat her Jamaican rival, Veronica Campbell, clocking 21.81 secs, dipping under the 22-second barrier for the first time. She won 4x100m and 4x400m relays as well to become only the second female athlete, to win three gold medals at a single IAAF World Championships.

Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Felix qualified for Beijing 2008 at the US Olympic trials by winning 200m in 21.82 secs, but narrowly missed qualifying for 100m. In the Olympic 200m final, despite running her SB at 21.93 secs, finished second to Campbell. Felix contributed to win 4x400m relay, eventually earning her first Olympic gold medal.

At the 2009 IAAF World Championships, at 23, Felix proceeded to claim her third 200m world championship gold, an unprecedented accomplishment in women’s sprinting. Felix clocked 22.02 to comfortably beat Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. Felix later claimed another gold by running a 48.75-second leg on Team US’s victorious 4x400 relay team.

In 2010, Felix focused on running more 400m races. Running 200m and 400m, she became the first person ever to win two IAAF Diamond League trophies in the same year. She continued her dominance by winning 21 out of 22 races. Felix also became the US 100m champion by winning the sprint in 11.27.

At the 2011 IAAF World Championships, Felix ran in 200 and 400, as well as 4x100 and 4x400. In 400, Felix’s best efforts yielded only a second-place. In 200, Felix finished third. In the relays, Felix ran the second leg in both 4x100 and 4x400, winning both, adding two world championship golds to her collection. The 25-year Felix was the only athlete to leave Daegu with four medals.

London 2012 Olympic Games

In 2012, Felix returned to the Olympic trials, choosing to race 100 in addition to her main event, 200. In 100 final, she ran 11.07, placing third, but not without controversy. Officials ruled that training partners Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh were in a dead heat, after initially declaring Tarmoh ahead. A run-off between Tarmoh and Felix was scheduled, but Tarmoh eventually withdrew conceding the spot to Felix. In 200 final, Felix recorded a PB and a meet record of 21.69, the third-fastest time an American has ever run and the fourth-fastest ever, up until that point.

At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Felix competed in four events: 100m, 200m, 4x100 and 4x400 relay, winning three golds, thus becoming the first American woman to win three golds in athletics at an Olympics since Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Olympics. In 100m final, she placed fifth with a PB of 10.89 secs. The 200 final, she won the gold in 21.88.

Felix took to the track again on August 10, 2012, as part of the women’s 4x100 relay with Tianna Madison, Bianca Knight, and Carmelita Jeter. The foursome won with a time of 40.82 sec, breaking the long-held world record of 41.37, set by East Germany in 1985. Also, Felix ran a 48.2 sec leg on the U.S. women’s 4x400 relay winning in a time of 3:16.87, the third-fastest in Olympic history.

In the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Felix succumbed to a hamstring injury in 200m final and was carried off the track by her brother. After a nine-month layoff, Felix resumed competition in 400m at the Shanghai Diamond League in May 2014, finishing fifth. She later competed in 200m at the Prefontaine Classic meet, finishing third with a SB of 22.44 secs.

As the winner of the 2014 IAAF Diamond League 200m title, Felix received a bye into the 2015 World Championships. Obligated to participate in the 2015 US Outdoor Track and Field Championships but not required to run 200m, she opted for 400m and earned her ninth US championship title.

The 2015 Beijing IAAF World Championships schedule placed 400m final just over an hour after 200m semi-finals, making it virtually impossible to perform in both events. As of July 1, Felix held the fastest seed time in both 400 and 200, leaving her with a difficult choice as to which event to put her full effort into. Felix eventually chose 400m and later triumphed with a PB of 49.26 secs.

Felix became the first woman to win world titles in 200m and 400m. Additionally, she has now won the most world championship gold medals, and most overall world championship medals, out of any American track and field athlete. She continued to add to her medal collection by earning silver medals in both 4x100 and 4x400 relays. In the latter race, Felix recorded a historic split time of 47.72 secs to record the fastest 4x400 split ever recorded by an American woman and third-fastest split ever by any female athlete.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Felix began her 2016 season with an uncharacteristically slow start after a gym accident in April, when she dropped from a pull-up bar and landed awkwardly, twisting her right ankle and tearing multiple ligaments. In June, she ran 400m at a low-key San Diego meet.

Despite the physical repercussions from the accident, Felix raced 200m and 400m at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Oregon, attempting to fulfill her goal of completing a 200–400 double victory at Rio 2016. In 400m trials final, she recorded a world-leading time of 49.68 secs. Then, in 200m final, she was narrowly edged out at the finish line.

At Rio 2016, Felix bumped her overall Olympic haul to nine overall medals: six golds and three silvers, tying Jamaican legend Merlene Ottey’s record for the most Olympic medals won by a female track and field athlete. Felix lost 400m by 0.07 to Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas, who made a legal but controversial dive across the finish line. Felix recovered to win two golds in 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams.

The 4x100 relay win drew much controversy, as Team USA was initially disqualified in their semi-final after Felix dropped the baton during the handoff attempt to English Gardner. However, replays showed that the Brazilian sprinter in the neighboring lane swung her arm and accidentally impeded Felix right before the handoff, causing her to lose her balance. After the appeal was accepted, Team USA was awarded a solo run. With a successful time trial, the team advanced to the final, winning in 41.01 secs, the second-fastest 4x100 time in history.

At the 2017 World Championships in London, Felix added three more medals to her collection, cementing her position as the most decorated athlete in IAAF World Championships history. Felix equaled Merlene Ottey’s and Usain Bolt’s 14 medal tally by winning a bronze in 400m. Felix earned two additional golds in 4x100 and 4x400, bringing her tally up to 16 world championship medals.

Felix reduced her racing schedule in 2018, stating: “In the 19 years that I’ve been running track, I’ve never taken a break. Now that this is kind of a year without a championship, I’ve had to force myself to have a different approach because my goal is 2020.” Later, Felix revealed her difficult pregnancy. During her 32nd-week pregnancy checkup, doctors discovered that Felix had developed pre-eclampsia, a condition that is disproportionately prevalent in African-American women and is marked by high blood pressure along with potentially harmful childbirth effects.

With the baby’s heart rate steadily decreasing, Felix had to deliver her premature daughter via emergency C-section within 48 hours. Motivated by her life-threatening experience, Felix testified before the United States House Committee on Ways and Means on the topic of the black maternal mortality crisis.

In July 2019, Felix competed in her first race since giving birth in November 2018, finishing sixth in 400m at the U.S. national championships in Iowa. Although failing to qualify into the individual 400m for the 2019 World Championships, her sixth-place finish still placed her in the U.S. 4x400 relay pool.

In the first-ever mixed-gender 4x400m relay at the world championships, Felix competed with Michael Cherry, Wil London III, and Courtney Okolo to set a world record of 3:09.34. She earned another gold from the women’s 4x400 relay. With her 12th and 13th world championship golds, Felix surpassed Usain Bolt for the most golds by any athlete in World Athletics Championship history.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Felix trained during the pandemic with the aim of qualifying for her fifth Olympic Games. She completed workouts on streets, empty soccer fields, and beaches when quarantine measures were first enacted in March 2020. She volunteered for the US Anti-Doping Agency’s “Project Believe 2020” to help test an unprecedented sample collection procedure for athletes during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

In June 2021, two years after she publicized her contract dispute with Nike, Felix launched her own footwear company, Saysh, and began wearing spikes created by the brand into competitions. Within the same month, at the Olympic trials, she qualified for 400m individual event by clocking 50.02 secs, her fastest since July 2017 and the masters athletics record (35–40 age group).

Leading up to 400m final of Tokyo 2020, some doubted that the Olympic veteran would stand on the podium for her final individual Olympic event, due to her age, performances at the trials, and semi-final time. Despite the odds, Felix ran 49.46 secs in the final to claim the bronze, her 10th overall Olympic medal. This accomplishment lowered her 400m masters athletics record, tied her with Carl Lewis as the most decorated American track and field Olympian, and broke her tie with Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female track and field Olympian.

At 35 years and 263 days, Felix concluded her Olympic career winning 4x400m becoming the oldest American female gold medalist in track and field as well as the oldest American gold medalist, male or female, in a track event. In addition, Felix is now the second-oldest female gold medalist in a track event regardless of nation. Felix, won gold in the final race of her career with Sydney McLaughlin who was in outside-lane seven for the lead-off, passing the baton to Felix, then Dalilah Muhammad third and Athing Mu as the anchor. With their victory in 3:16.85, the US team won its seventh straight gold since Atlanta 1996.

This 11th Olympic medal broke Felix’s tie with legendary Carl Lewis and officially established her as the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history. Tokyo was Felix’s first Games as a mom after welcoming daughter Camryn in November 2018 with husband Kenneth Ferguson.

Felix is a devout Christian and her foremost quote is: “The most important lesson that I have learned is to trust God in every circumstance. Lots of times we go through different trials and following God’s plan seems like it doesn’t make any sense at all. God is always in control and he will never leave us.”

(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected])

Allyson Felix begins her last lap in the 4x400 at Tokyo 2020