TOKYO (AP) – She describes herself as “old”. She concedes that she wasn’t sure she was going that far. There were times, however, when “doing it” had nothing to do with the Olympics and everything to do with just getting out of your hospital bed.
And it should come as no surprise now to learn that instead, on Friday night, she won.
Not the gold medal in the women’s 400 meters. But a bronze that could end up taking center stage in its trophy case. It is the medal n ° 10, the one that placed it alone at the top of the record books.
On a wet and sticky evening filled with anticipation, Felix – the sprinter, turned mom, turned lawyer, turned realist – became the most decorated track athlete in Olympic history.
The 35-year-old beamed as she walked through the bottom of the stadium – the new bronze medal stood out against her white “USA” tracksuit.
“A lot of times I’ve linked my own work to what’s going on in these championships,” she said. “And I didn’t want to do that this time. I have lived too much. I always run for gold. But I just wanted to have some joy no matter what happened tonight.
Felix’s 10th Olympic medal broke the tie with Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey and matches Carl Lewis, who was the only most decorated American athlete on the track. Felix could surpass Lewis on Saturday, when she is expected to be part of the US 4 × 400 relay. Paavo Nurmi of Finland holds the all-time mark with 12 medals from 1920 to 28.
Felix started Friday’s race from the loneliest place on the track: lane 9, outside, with a phalanx of sprinters – each younger, each perhaps wondering if they could be the ” Next Allyson Felix “- behind her where she couldn’t see them.
Felix hasn’t spent much time during his rich career, which spans five Olympics and nearly two decades, starting at lane 9. This is where the underdogs line up.
“It’s hard,” she said. “You just feel like you’re alone there.”
But when she took off, she dodged the one thing that destroys runners there. She avoided the urge to take off too quickly, which is natural when you don’t know where the other runners are.
She ran an almost perfect race, given the circumstances. She didn’t win. Very few expected it. She finished 1.1 seconds behind Shaune Miller-Uibo, the Bahamian sprint star who snatched a gold medal from Felix five years ago, when she crossed the finish line in Rio.
This one hurt. Second place in Athens and Beijing also hurt. Felix, who spent years as one of the game’s most proudly deprived athletes, is often known to cry in the recesses of Olympic stadiums after winning silver.
“I never want to be content with losing,” she said in Beijing, after the second straight Olympics loss to Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.
After a semi-final race this week which was a end-to-end struggle, she admitted that she was not as young as before. What hasn’t been said is that the finale might not turn out to be a fairytale.
“Obviously I didn’t want to be in that position, because it’s something I was hoping I could accomplish,” she said. “But it was just being able to separate the two. I feel like I’ve come a long way since every other Games. It sounds cliché, but, honestly, it’s bigger than just running around there. “
The milestone for Felix comes nearly three years after she helped start a conversation about how women are treated on the track and in sport in general. She cut ties with Nike, which put pay cuts on women’s contracts if they got pregnant.
She ran on Friday wearing a shoe she designed for a business she started. (She also wore Nike clothes, as it is the company that sponsors the American team).
Felix has spoken candidly about the struggle to come back from a difficult pregnancy that led to an emergency Cesarean and put his life and that of his baby, Cammy, in danger.
She spoke of the pressure she felt to come back quickly, even when her body wasn’t responding the way it once did.
She has also overcome one of her biggest hurdles – leaving behind her well-cultivated private image to become the spokesperson for something much bigger.
“I feel like it was definitely a journey for me to get to the point where I guess I had the courage to do it,” said Felix.
This week, she spoke about the topic that has filtered through the Tokyo Olympics – how winning isn’t everything, and how the pressure to stand on the podium can make the journey even more difficult.
“When I line up for a race, I normally get scared,” she said in a sincere essay on social networks, posted just hours before the race. “I’m not afraid of losing. I lose a lot more than I win. That’s life and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.
At the end of his race, Felix had nothing to fear. As she made her way to the finish line, she edged Jamaican Stephanie Ann McPherson by 0.15 seconds for a bronze medal that could have been a disappointment in other years, but certainly not this time.
Felix said to get ready for the race on Friday morning, she returned and watched some videos of some of the struggles she and Cammy endured as they both faced their own comeback.
“The really, really tough times are what I tried to tap into,” she said. “There was a time when we didn’t know if I was going to make it. And here I am at the Olympics at 35. So, you know, who could ask for more?