DOHA, Qatar, Sep 25 – A warrior on and off the track, Allyson Felix is determined to go out on her own terms as she sets out on the final leg of her glittering career at the World Championships this week.
After 16 years at the pinnacle of her sport, the 33-year-old American has accumulated more World Championship and Olympic honours than any other track and field athlete in history.
In Doha, she will be aiming to add to an incredible collection of 25 medals, a dazzling haul that includes six Olympic golds and 11 World Championship titles.
The Worlds mark the start of what is in all probability a year-long lap of honour, with Felix eyeing a golden farewell at what will be her fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
Unusually for Felix, Doha marks the first time that she will not be entered in an individual event at a major championships after she failed to finish in the top three at the US trials in July.
Instead, Felix will travel as part of the US relay pool as the Americans look to defend the 4x400m title they won in London.
That in itself represents a victory for Felix, who only returned to racing in July after a 13-month absence, which saw her give birth to her daughter Camryn via an emergency C-section in November last year.
Felix though says she is not going to be satisfied making up the numbers in the final stages of her career, and is determined to compete in Tokyo next year in the individual 400m.
“I think it would be crazy for me to say that I was disappointed,” Felix said after her sixth place finish at the US trials.
“I have my health, I have my family, I couldn’t ask for more than that. And I am able to still do what I love.”
– Blazing a trail –
Felix, who took silver in the 400m final behind the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the Rio Olympics in 2016, is confident however that her performances at the US trial indicate she has plenty left in the tank.
“I want to be back at the Olympics,” Felix said. “I want that more than anything. I want to go out on my terms. A little sacrifice here or there, I believe it will be worth it.”
While Felix remains first and foremost a competitor, she has also emerged as a leading voice for the rights of women athletes.
In May, she denounced long-time sponsors Nike over the company’s maternity practices, calling for greater support for female athletes who take time off from the sport to have children.
“If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward,” Felix wrote in a New York Times editorial. “It’s one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men.”
The effects of Felix’s criticisms were striking. Nike swiftly changed its policy, vowing to ensure no female athlete is adversely impacted financially by pregnancy.
Felix meanwhile signed a new sponsorship deal with the Athleta leisurewear company, in a move she says redefines “what sponsorship looks like.”
“They’re excited to celebrate me as a whole athlete. That’s not just my performance, but being a mother and an activist as well,” Felix told the Washington Post in a recent interview.
Felix says motherhood changed her outlook on life, making her more inclined to speak out. After challenging Nike, she is already looking towards a future where women have a greater say in athletics.
“More women at the table, decision-makers — that is definitely what is needed,” Felix says. “Women who have been through this. Who have experiences. Who can come up with a number of things off the top of their head of ways we can be supported.”