Allyson Felix retires from track career that brought joy, heartbreak
Allyson Felix hopes she will be remembered as a fierce competitor. Those who followed her career over the last two decades, since the pre-Facebook era, know that to be true.
“It’s broken my heart many times, but I’ve also had many really joyous moments,” Felix said before she is expected to race at a full-fledged meet for the last time Friday in the mixed-gender 4x400m relay at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon. “I’m going to miss it so much.”
Felix’s career is defined not just by victories (29 Olympic or world outdoor championships medals, with 20 golds), but also how she won: returning from defeats, injuries and then a life-threatening pregnancy to always get back on the top step of podiums.
That in mind, a look back at the defining races of Felix’s career:
2004 Athens Olympics: Silver in debut
Felix, an 18-year-old who had turned pro out of high school, was runner-up to Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown to start what would become a rivalry that spanned three Olympics. Felix became the youngest Olympic medalist in an individual track race in 24 years. Felix, who didn’t take a victory lap (perhaps out of inexperience), said that night in Greece, “When I was coming down the stretch, it was a lot of heart and giving it all I had. ... I feel I took a lot away from it. This is just a start for me.”
2005 Helsinki World Championships: First world title
The first teenager to win an individual world title in the sprints, Felix overtook Frenchwoman Christine Arron in the finishing straight by showing what became a trademark controlled form in the closing meters. She won after switching coaches from Pat Connolly to Bobby Kersee following the Athens Games. Kersee has coached her ever since and has coached an Olympic gold medalist in every women’s sprint event -- flat and hurdles.
2008 Beijing Olympics: Silver again
Felix went into her second Olympics as the two-time reigning world 200m champion (including a blowout victory in 2007 by .53 of a second), but Campbell-Brown arrived in Beijing with the world’s two fastest wind-legal times in 2008. The Jamaican delivered again under a light rain in the Olympic final, dominating in what ended up being the best time of her life. In a memorable scene, Felix was consoled by family members in the stands amid her victory lap. “I felt prepared. I felt ready. It just wasn’t there today,” she said after a repeat of the 2004 Olympic one-two, reportedly choking back tears in a post-race interview. “Deja vu, and not in a good way.”
2011 Daegu World Championships: Double denied
Ever since 2005, Felix harbored a goal of winning four gold medals at a single Olympics. The 2011 World Championships could have been a dress rehearsal. She ran two individual events at a global championship for the first time, in addition to two relays. It did not go as hoped. Felix won four medals, but, painfully, was held off by Botswana’s Amantle Montsho in the 400m final by three hundredths. Three years later, Montsho tested positive for a banned stimulant and was suspended two years. Four nights after the 400m, Felix’s world title streak in the 200m was snapped as she finished third. “When the race was over and the scripted ‘victory’ lap was finished, she did the same thing as after her 400 loss and ducked into a medical tent to compose herself. She never lets us see her cry, if, indeed, that’s what she was doing,” Tim Layden, now with NBC Sports, wrote for Sports Illustrated from Daegu. The conclusion: A 200m-400m double at the next year’s Olympics was off the table, not with Felix still seeking her first individual Olympic gold.
2012 Olympic Trials: The dead heat
Felix decided to go for two individual events at her third Olympic Trials: the 100m and the 200m. The 100m was up first, and it produced a controversial result. Felix and training partner Jeneba Tarmoh crossed the finish line together for the third and last spot on the team individually (both made it in the relay pool). Tarmoh was originally put ahead by one thousandth of a second. It was later reversed, declared a dead heat and through tiebreaking procedures a run-off was announced. Tarmoh later withdrew before it could be held, saying that her “heart would not be in the race,” handing the spot to Felix.
2012 London Olympics: Gold, at last
Felix’s first (and lone) individual Olympic title came in one of the strongest women’s sprint fields in history. She prevailed, comfortably in the end, over two-time reigning Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who was followed by reigning world 100m champion Carmelita Jeter, then 2004 and 2008 Olympic 200m champion Campbell-Brown and reigning Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross. “I thought back to the moment of Beijing [in 2008] and just being so disappointed and the road that I had to just get back here and just never wanted to give up,” Felix said that night. Two nights later, Felix was part of a 4x100m relay quartet that broke the world record (still stands today) and for years spoke glowingly about the experience.
2013 Moscow World Championships: Carried off the track
After securing that individual Olympic gold, Felix set out at age 26 on the second half of her career. It began in earnest at the 2013 World Championships. But Felix only made it about 50 meters into the 200m final before tearing her right hamstring and dropping to the ground. Brother and agent Wes Felix (who in 2002 finished third in the world junior championships 200m won by Usain Bolt) carried her off the track. Felix said before those worlds that she wanted to build up for a 2016 Olympic 200m-400m double bid, but the first major injury of her career put everything into doubt.
2016 Rio Olympics: The dive
Felix returned from the hamstring tear to finish 2014 as the world’s top 200m runner. In 2015, she became, primarily, a 400m runner. She contested solely the one-lap race at the national championships and then won the world title in the fastest time she’d ever run. She went into 2016 with the 200m-400m Olympic double on her mind. But on April 17, less than three months before Olympic Trials, she landed on a medicine ball in a workout and partially tore right ankle ligaments. She won the 400m at trials, but the injury affected her more in the 200m, where she lacked the necessary explosive power. “She was giving up three steps out of the blocks,” Wes said after Felix, known to have leg-pressed 700 pounds at her peak, missed the Olympic team by one hundredth at trials. So Felix went to Rio to race the 400m. In the final, Felix ran down a leading-but-tiring Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the straightaway. Felix leaned at the line. Miller-Uibo dived (she said by accident), throwing her body at the line, and won by seven hundredths. Diving is a legal move, though one that is usually less efficient than running through the line with a well-timed lean. “It’s going to be tough. I’m just going to try to pick myself up,” Felix said of the silver.
2019 USATF Outdoor Championships: The comeback
Felix returned to competition less than eight months after having daughter Camryn via life-threatening, emergency C-section surgery at 32 weeks. She finished sixth in the 400m at nationals to qualify for a ninth consecutive world championships team, going to worlds in the 4x400m relay pool. Felix said she was “far from” her best going into the meet off “very little” training, but her focus was on the year ahead. “I want to be back at the Olympics,” she said then. “I want that more than anything. I want to go out on my terms.” At worlds, Felix won two relay golds, breaking her tie with Usain Bolt for the most golds in world championships history.
2020 Tokyo Olympics: Golden mom
In her last individual Olympic race, Felix ran the second-fastest 400m of her career to edge Jamaican Stephenie Ann McPherson for bronze. At 35, Felix became the oldest U.S. woman to win an Olympic track and field medal and the first person to win an individual track and field medal at five fully attended Olympics. “I was told [after childbirth] that was it for [my career],” Felix said. “I knew that I still had more to give.” The next day, she added 4x400m gold, her 11th Olympic medal, breaking Carl Lewis’ record for the most track and field medals for an American.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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