LOS ANGELES: Whether she’s straining all her nerves for the finish line or leading the way in ensuring better treatment of female athletes everywhere, Allyson Felix has made a career in fighting.
The 35-year-old stateswoman of American athletics lifts the curtain on her 17-year Olympic career in Tokyo, ending an odyssey that began when she competed as a teenage prodigy at the Games. Athens in 2004.
Felix’s fifth and final Olympics will almost certainly see her become the most decorated female track and field athlete in Games history.
She is currently tied with Jamaican legend Merlene Ottey with nine medals, a dazzling result that includes six gold and three silver.
One more medal in Tokyo – virtually guaranteed given her place in the dominant US women’s 4x400m relay team – will see her stand out from Ottey.
If she wins two or more – another possibility given her likely place in the 4×400 mixed relay team – she will overtake Carl Lewis as America’s most decorated track athlete in history.
It will be a fitting conclusion to the final phase of a career that has seen Felix get used to battling adversity, on and off the track.
A chaotic build-up and disrupted by a pandemic in Tokyo left Felix with no place to train at times last year, forcing him to perform impromptu sprint workouts on the streets of his neighborhood on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
She booked her spot on the U.S. team for Tokyo with a typically courageous performance at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon in June, digging deep to secure second place with a time of 50.02 seconds after falling behind at fourth place before the home stretch.
“I told myself before the race that at the end of the day I have to fight,” said Felix after that performance.
“It’s been one of my themes for a few years. I was just going to give it my all and leave it all on the trail. “
During the last years of her career, Felix has established herself as a leading voice for the rights of women athletes.
In 2019, she made headlines after speaking out against longtime Nike sponsors for the company’s maternity practices, calling for more support for female athletes who take time out of sport to have children.
“If we have children, we risk cuts to our sponsors’ wages during pregnancy and after,” Felix wrote in a New York Times editorial.
“This is an example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men,” added Felix, who gave birth to daughter Camryn on Nov. 18 after an emergency Caesarean.
The effects of Felix’s criticisms were striking. Nike quickly changed its policy, pledging to ensure that no female athlete was financially affected by pregnancy.
Felix meanwhile signed a new sponsorship deal with leisure wear company Athleta, in a move she says redefines “what sponsorship looks like.”
Booking his place in the Tokyo squad was made more enjoyable by the fact that his daughter Camryn was on hand to greet him at the finish line.
Felix says motherhood has been a driving force as she seeks to make the most of the later years of her career.
“I really wanted to show her that no matter what, you do things with character, integrity and you don’t give up,” Felix said of his daughter.
“Having him as a motivation over the past two years has given me a whole new motivation.”
Felix says she also hopes to inspire other women that motherhood is not a barrier to success in any career.
“I think society tells us in a lot of cases that if you have a child, your best times are behind you,” Felix said. “But that’s absolutely not the case.
“There are so many women in all industries who are here and doing it. I hope that when they look and see me, they see that it is possible. “- AFP