EUGENE, Ore. – Doesn’t matter that she was passed at the end of her last sprint around the track. Or ended up with a bronze medal instead of gold.
For 15 memorable seconds, Allyson Felix sprinted alone in the sunshine at the World Championships on Friday night, zooming past the stands and well ahead of the field on the backstretch. A few minutes later, she took her newfound prize and hung it around her 3-year-old daughter’s neck.
“I felt the love,” Felix said of her last run on the big stage. “And I felt joy running tonight.”
She’s now 36, so it didn’t come as a huge shock when a runner 11 years her junior, Marileidy Paulino of the winning Dominican Republic team, finally caught up with her. No great disgrace that the USA is saving the rest of its vaunted star power for big races. Over the next nine days of that meeting he finished third in the 4x400m mixed relay, also behind the Netherlands.
Third place still gave Felix her 19th medal at World Championships, extending a record she already held. Combined with the 11 she scored in the Olympics, she will retire with a straight 30 in her sport’s biggest events.
Some might say that a bronze medal for the most successful sprinter in US history feels like a disappointment. However, others, including Felix herself, compare it to the bronze she won in the women’s 400 at the Tokyo Olympics last year – a medal she ranks as one of her finest triumphs.
“It’s a similar emotion,” she said. “In the last few years I’ve gone beyond the watch and the medals and I never thought this would be a place I would come to.”
The once-shy teenager is now an outspoken advocate for women and mothers in and out of sport. Much of this was due to her becoming a mother, then struggling, and eventually leaving Nike, which cut her pay during her pregnancy.
Felix also had an emergency c-section eight weeks before her due date. It left both her and her daughter Cammy struggling to survive in a hospital room. Any run at all, let alone medals, feels like a bonus at this point.
“There isn’t a single story that can explain the impact she had on the sport,” said Elijah Godwin, who ran the first leg and was the last team-mate to pass the baton to Felix. “Over the years she’s been doing it, she’s become an icon and for us to come out and compete with her, it’s a blessing to have this opportunity.”
Google got involved. A search for Felix’s name on Friday night turned up all of her credentials, overlaid with an animation of her sprinting across the computer screen, followed by the words ‘Olympian. mom. advocate.”
All part of a fitting finale for Cammy’s mom, who Felix said was certainly out for ice cream after the race and wasn’t waiting backstage for mom to finish the interviews.
Felix was entered only in the mixed relay after failing to qualify for the World Championships in a single race. When her name was initially announced, the two-thirds full house at the first World Cup in the United States cheered as loudly as they had all night.
Until she hit the opposite route.
Godwin had a slim lead when he handed her the baton and Felix extended the lead for the first 200 meters of her final lap around the track. Her arms pumped and her knees kicked up with that near-perfect form that could only be hers. But she faded after rounding her final corner and being caught by Paulino.
Her feelings as she crossed the line?
“The first thing I felt was lactic acid,” she said.
Vernon Norwood retook the lead on stage three, but Dominican Fiordaliza Cofil passed American Kennedy Simon at anchor and then hurdler Femke Bol made a big late charge to give the Netherlands the silver. The Dominican Republic won in 3 minutes, 9.82 seconds by a margin of 0.08 seconds.
“I beat them twice,” said Paulino, who finished second in the 400 in Tokyo. “But to me she will always be the best in the world. She opened up a better path for all of us.”
The USA finished in 3:10.16. According to statistics, Felix ran her last 400 meters in 50.15 seconds. It’s nowhere near the 47.72-second time she ran in a gold-medal 4×400 at World Championships in 2015 — still the fastest ever ridden by an American — but that was hardly the point.
“It just feels like we’re part of history,” Godwin said. “And to have a picture with her, that’s the most important thing for me. I just want to have my picture with her and be remembered for it.”
Felix’s final medal capped an opening day that also included heats in the men’s 100cc.
American Fred Kerley, last year’s Olympic silver medalist, finished in 9.79 seconds – a lightning fast time for a preliminary round that was just 0.03 off his season best and 0.01 faster than Italy’s Marcel’s win Jacobs in Tokyo last year.
All the other big names advanced: Jacobs, Marvin Bracy, Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse, 2011 world champion Yohan Blake and Christian Coleman, who is defending his world title after missing the Olympics due to a suspension for missed doping tests.
The first medals of the meet came in the 20-kilometer walk, where Kimberly Garcia won Peru’s first-ever medal at the World Championships in a time of 1:26:28. Toshikazu Yamanishi of Japan successfully defended his men’s title in 1:19.07.
But it was the final medals of the night that will be remembered by everyone at Hayward Field.
Felix was smiling broadly as World Athletics President Sebastian Coe hung the bronze around her neck and the second gentleman, Douglas Emhoff, available to present, shook her hand.
Felix stood upright as the Dominican Republic’s national anthem was played. But she felt like the winner. Her last big-scale race was in her home country, where her daughter was watching.
“Of course I’m not in the prime of my career, but to be able to deal with Cammy here in the stands tonight and to share this moment with her means a lot to me,” said Felix.