Allyson Felix: The mother of all comebacks to inspire and empower women at Tokyo 2020
Allyson Felix is on the verge of her greatest victory yet.
Felix has already secured her greatness as an athlete, now she wants to leave a legacy far beyond the finishing line.
The only female track and field athlete ever to win six Olympic gold medals, Felix is the most decorated Olympian of all time alongside Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey with nine medals each.
One more medal at Tokyo 2020 - her 5th Olympics - would make her immortal: the undisputed Greatest Of All Time.
But for Felix, it's about much more than that.
By winning another Olympic medal, Felix would prove a powerful point and further empower and inspire the women and girls following in her tracks:
The point that pregnancy isn't the end of your career, that women can be mothers and champions, that life as a sportswoman isn't a choice between the sport you love and the child/children you would love to have.
"We are all so much more than our professions... I want to empower women & girls."
- Allyson Felix on Instagram
Allyson Felix: Woman on a mission
Prodigious sprinter, precocious winner, Felix was on the fast track to greatness from a young age.
In high school they said she was too skinny to be a sprinter and called her 'chicken legs', but her coach Jonathan Patton saw something special and believed in her.
And sometimes it just takes one person to believe in you.
At 17 years of age Felix ran a 200m race in 22.11s in Mexico City in front of 50,000 people.
That shattered the old junior world record, but unfortunately it didn't stand because there was no drug testing at the event.
By 18, Felix was already an Olympic medallist, winning a spectacular 200m silver at Athens 2004 - just 0.13 of a second behind Jamaica's Veronica Campbell.
Her 22.18 time was a new junior world record, and this time it did stand - and still does - giving her that first taste of Olympic success.
And she wanted more.
Talent, training, and an uncommon focus took Felix to the apex of her sport:
Gold and silver at Beijing 2008, three gold medals at London 2012, two more at Rio 2016 with another silver - six gold and three silver Olympic medals all told.
No-one has ever won six gold medals before, and only one other woman has 9 Olympic medals.
Allyson Felix had achieved everything she ever dreamed of.
Felix earns Women's 200m gold in London | London 2012 Replays
Felix earns Women's 200m gold in London | London 2012 ReplaysAllyson Felix sprints to 200m gold for the United States with a blistering run in the women's 200m at London 2012.
Allyson Felix's daughter Camryn
Everything that is, apart from one little thing.
"For most of my life, I was focused on one thing: winning medals," Felix wrote in the New York Times in May.
"And I was good at it. At 32, I was one of the most decorated athletes in history: a six-time Olympic gold medal winner and an 11-time world champion.
"But last year, my focus expanded: I wanted to be a professional athlete and a mother. In some ways, that dream was crazy."
On November 28 at 5:28pm Felix gave birth to to her baby daughter Camryn, and that 'crazy dream' came true.
But it was complicated and she spent Christmas with Camryn in the intensive care unit.
"The NICU is a heavy place. I never imagined motherhood would start there for me.
- Felix on Instagram
I was exhausted physically and emotionally. Drained. Dealing with a flood of emotions."
Allyson Felix: "If I can't secure maternity protections, who can?"
While pregnant, the USA track star's sponsorship deal ran out, and she feared that she might never race again.
Suddenly her own health and Camryn's future didn't feel so secure.
“I’m not one to shake things up,” Felix told the Washington Post in August.
“I don’t know, I’m just — I’ve always been very laid-back, sometimes quiet. It’s just not natural to come out and have a hard stance on different things.”
"But you can't change anything with silence," she wrote in that New York Times Op-Ed in May.
Inspired by Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher who also broke their silence on the issue a week before, their words rang true:
"In track, athletes aren’t paid a salary by a league. Instead, their income comes almost exclusively from sponsorship deals," said Montaño.
"For the vast majority of athletes, their sport is a way to earn a decent living by doing what they love and excel at. They don’t get rich."
“Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete”
- Phoebe Wright
Another runner Phoebe Wright came out and said what female athletes know and what they get told all the time behind closed doors: that getting pregnant is “the kiss of death” for women in athletics.
Felix knew exactly what that meant, and how it felt, and could no longer hold her silence.
"Athletes are told to shut up and play"
And she let it all flow.
"If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward. It’s one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men."
The USA's most decorated female track athlete of all time felt pressure to get back to work, back to form, back to the track, back to the top of the podium right after Camryn was allowed home from hospital...
"...even though I ultimately had to undergo an emergency C-section at 32 weeks because of severe pre-eclampsia that threatened the lives of me and my baby."
"Athletes are told to shut up and play. We are told that no one cares about our politics. We are told that we’re just entertainers, so run fast, jump high, and throw far. And don’t mess up."
"Pregnancy is not messing up" - Allyson Felix
"But pregnancy is not messing up; for women it can and should be able to be part of a thriving professional athletic career, as my teammates have shown and I hope to show too. And I dream of a day when we don’t have to fight in order to try."
Felix wasn't happy to limit her influence to the sporting world either, speaking to protections for women across society.
"Protection during maternity isn’t just limited to Olympians; working women all over the U.S. deserve protection when they have children."
Felix's message resonated across America, and across the world.
Sponsors lined up in pledging to make things fairer, to protect women in sport better, and to acknowledge their fundamental right to own their bodies and become mothers whenever they choose.
Allyson Felix the global track superstar became Allyson Felix the global track superhero.
The mother of all comebacks
When she lined up at the Team USA World Championship qualifiers eight months after bringing Camryn into the world, the cheer for Felix was deafening.
A sixth place finish in the USATF Outdoor Championships 400m was enough to book her ticket to a ninth consecutive World Championships in Doha.
And while the Worlds will motivate her, this U.S. star has Tokyo in her sights.
"I want to be back at the Olympics. I want that more than anything. I want to go out on my terms. A little sacrifice here or there I believe will be worth it.”
- Alison Felix
The work and the sacrifice to get back to where she was would scare most off, but Felix is fighting for more than just herself now.
And as she proved at the Great North City Games, the champ is more determined than ever.
Another medal at the Japan Olympics would crown Allyson Felix as women's G.O.A.T. on the track and in the history books, but to win a medal after coming back from childbirth, with everything that's been said and done, would surely mean her greatest victory yet.
The mother of all comebacks is on.