Allyson Felix posed at the airport departures entrance with three large suitcases, wearing a pink shirt that read “The Future is Female” and holding a baby stroller.
This week’s USATF Outdoor Championships will be unlike any of Felix’s others since her 2003 debut.
She is expected to compete in Des Moines starting Thursday in her first meet in 13 months, since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28 (TV schedule here).
The most decorated female Olympic track and field athlete with nine medals and six golds is entered solely in what has become her primary event, the 400m.
The first round is Thursday, semifinals Friday and final Saturday. Felix likely must finish in the top six to make her ninth straight world championships team. That should be enough to get her on the 4x400m relay. Top three is required to make the individual 400m.
“This year will be good to get momentum going, to get back and see,” a cautious Felix, eyeing her fifth straight Olympics, said in May. “Then next year I’ll be able to have a better idea.”
NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon is all-in.
“I’m not concerned about her form because I have inside information that Allyson Felix right now could probably win U.S. Nationals,” Boldon, a four-time Olympic sprint analyst, said last week. “If you really want to set up that last hurrah, we assume that next year’s going to be her last Olympics, then you have to get back on that horse and get back out there. I get what she’s trying to do. Her thing is, look, I’m not really focused on winning worlds this year. It would be unrealistic, but if I get back in there and get those competitive juices flowing, then I’m sort of using 2019 to set up 2020.”
Felix turns 34 on Nov. 18. She is already the oldest Olympic women’s 400m medalist in history, from taking silver behind diving Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo in Rio. Next year, she can break Michael Johnson‘s age record for male or female 400m medalists.
Last we saw Felix at a major meet, she took 400m bronze at the 2017 World Championships behind countrywoman Phyllis Francis, an Oregon Duck who was at home on a wet track, and Bahraini Salwa Eid Naser. Felix clocked the second-fastest time over the entire year, a 49.65 from the month before worlds.
Three Americans at least nine years younger than Felix emerged last year — Shakima Wimbley (49.52), Lynna Irby (49.80) and Kendall Ellis (49.99). But none of them have broken 51.3 this season, and no U.S. woman has broken 50.6. The world’s fastest this year hail from the Bahamas, Bahrain, Niger, Jamaica and Botswana.
Plus, Francis has a bye into worlds as defending champion, giving the U.S. four individual 400m entrants in Doha in two months.
“I don’t expect that if [Felix] shows up at nationals that three people are going to beat her,” Boldon said.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF OutdoorsFollow @nzaccardi