The crowd at Hayward Field roared for Allyson Felix before the race even started, and the track legend did not disappoint as she cruised to first place in her 400m heat.
“It felt really great,” Felix told reporters of the applause. “It’s always a warm welcome here, it’s nice to be back.”
Advancing past the first round at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials may seem minute for the nine-time Olympic medalist, but it was a significant step for Felix as she attempts to make a fifth consecutive Olympic team.
Already with the most World medals in track and field history, Felix is one medal shy of the most Olympic track and field medals by an American and could match or surpass Carl Lewis’ 10 if she makes it to Tokyo.
Felix, now 35, has run in Eugene, Oregon, for most of her Olympic Trials (the 2004 Trials were in Sacramento, California) but this one is different.
This time, Felix has husband Kenneth Ferguson and 2-year-old daughter Camryn cheering for her in the stands.
“It’s really cool,” Felix said of her daughter being old enough to watch and understand. “Initially, I was so disappointed to have everything postponed (due to the pandemic), and then I started to see the silver lining in everything and that’s one of the big ones – she’s so aware and she’s able to enjoy this as well.”
Plus, Felix knows this Trials is her last.
“I think more than anything [this time is different because] it’s the last time around – just wanting to savor it and also be smart,” she said. “I really want to make this team, so just being smart through the rounds.”
Felix won the first heat without breaking much of a sweat and advanced with the fourth-fastest time of 50.99 seconds. Wadeline Jonathas, 23, was fastest, winning the third of four heats in 50.64. Phyllis Francis, the 2017 World champion, Jessica Beard, a five-time World champion in relays, and Natasha Hastings, a two-time Olympic champion in relays and now mother to 22-month-old Liam, are among the other semifinalists. Courtney Okolo, the 2018 World indoor champion, and Francena McCorory, the 2014 World indoor champion, did not advance.
Sixteen advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, where the top three per heat and two next fastest will then advance to Sunday’s final. A top-six finish in the final would likely put her on the Olympic team for the relay pool.
Felix is also entered in the 200m, which starts Thursday, June 24. Her plan for the past two years has been to run both events at Trials, in hopes of “having a decision to make, but just kind of see how things play out.”
She won the 2012 Olympic gold in the 200m, plus 2004 and 2008 silver medals at that distance. In her first Olympic 400m race, Felix took silver in 2016 behind Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who dove for the win in Rio.
In the men’s 400m, Trevor Stewart had the fastest time in 44.75 seconds with Michael Norman – who is fourth-fastest on the all-time list with a 43.45 in 2019 – was fourth in 45.18 seconds.
LaShawn Merritt, who turns 35 later this month, eked out a spot in the semifinals as the 16th and final qualifier. Merritt won the 2008 Olympic gold and 2016 Olympic bronze in this race.
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