Allyson Felix had already secured a spot on her fifth Olympic team simply by qualifying into the women’s 400m final.
But being a member of the relay team was not enough for one of the sport’s most decorated athletes, so on Sunday night Felix finished in the top three to guarantee entry into the individual 400m event in Tokyo.
She turned up the speed in the final few meters of the race to pass Kendall Ellis and Wadeline Jonathas and finish second, in 50.02 seconds, to winner Quanera Hayes, who earned her Olympic debut in 49.78 seconds at 29 years old. Jonathas, 23, will join them in the individual event, with Ellis, Kaylin Whitney, Lynna Irby, Taylor Manson and Shae Anderson being named to the event for the relay pool.
Felix was the only finalist with Olympic experience — and she has promised this will be her last.
“Man, it has been a fight to get here, and one thing I know how to do is fight, so I just did that all the way home,” Felix told NBC reporter Lewis Johnson.
A nine-time Olympic medalist, Felix is the most decorated woman in the sport’s history and with just one more medal this summer she would also tie Carl Lewis for the most decorated U.S. Olympic track and field athlete.
She now has the potential to race in the 400m, 4x400m relay and mixed 4x400m relay, which makes its Olympic debut this year. Felix is also planning to race the 200m later this week at Olympic Trials in hopes of creating options for herself; the Tokyo schedule only allows runners to compete either the 200m or the 400m.
Felix has been racing at U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials since she was 18 years old, but this year’s has proven to be her most fun.
“It’s probably the most I’ve taken everything in and savored it, and kind of just looked around, so in that respect, for sure,” she said following Saturday’s semifinal.
Also taking in their surroundings are her husband Kenneth Ferguson and 2-year-old daughter Cammy from the Hayward Field standings.
Felix committed to a fifth Olympic campaign in part to show her daughter that anything is possible.
“I just wanted to really show her, no matter what, that you do things with character, integrity and you don’t give up,” Felix said. “No matter the outcome, I wanted to stay consistent with that. Having her as motivation these past few years has just given me a whole new drive.”
She had an emergency C-section while only 32 weeks pregnant in November 2018; Cammy weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces, and spent the first few weeks of her life in the NICU.
The birth was life-threatening to Felix herself, who has since returned to being one of the nation’s fastest women, and hopes to be fastest in the world in a month’s time.
“Today I thought about all the things,” Felix told Johnson while lying on the track post-race with Cammy. “I thought about us fighting in the NICU, fighting for my life, fighting to get on this track.”
Felix introduced Cammy to Hayes’ son Demetrius who was born in October 2018, as they celebrated on the track.
“I’m in disbelief,” Hayes said. “To know he was here cheering for me and to know exactly where they were sitting made me go even harder.”
Hayes was sure to thank Felix immediately after the race.
“I just told her that I was grateful for all that she’s done for mothers, and her paving the way for me as an athlete with all that she’s done for the sport,” Hayes said. “Then I was like, ‘Are you sure this is your last go-round? She said yes, and I was like, ‘No, no!’ I was just honestly telling her thank you because I’ve looked up to Allyson for a very long time, and to be there with her and to go through this with her as a mom, it makes it even more special to be there with her.”
Another reason Felix committed to returning to the Olympic stage was her finish in Rio. Felix took silver behind Bahama’s Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who dove for the gold at the line.
After winning 200m gold in London, after 200m silvers at the previous two Games, Felix is hungry for another individual gold.
She will join a list of just 15 U.S. women who have competed at five or more Olympic Games, only three of whom – Amy Acuff, Gail Devers and Willye White – did so in track and field.
She already owns more Olympic medals than all but one of those 15 athletes – 12-time medalist swimmer Dara Torres – and will look to add to that haul in Tokyo.
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