EUGENE, Oregon — For all the accolades Allyson Felix has accumulated throughout her career — including more medals than any other track and field athlete in history — her toddler daughter remains somewhat underwhelmed.
The only question from 3-year-old Cammy this season has been, when is mommy going to do the event where she jumps in the water?
Cammy, Felix says, is obsessed with steeplechase. Watching mom run in her last-ever professional event in front of thousands of adoring fans? Not really her thing.
“She doesn’t get it at all,” Felix said at the USATF Outdoor Championships, laughing. “I told her that steeple is way too hard. We’ve got some teaching to do.”
This week marks the final stop on the Allyson Felix Farewell Tour, as the track and field world championships, never before held on U.S. soil, get underway Friday at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.
A longtime standout in the 200- and 400-meter races, Felix is expected to compete Friday night in the mixed relay after she didn’t qualify for worlds in her individual events. Then the 36-year-old — she turns 37 in November — will retire competitively from the sport she has helped shape for nearly two decades.
“Holistically, she has made the sport better,” said Sanya Richards-Ross, herself a three-time Olympian who was one of Felix’s main rivals in the 400. “When you look at her contribution to the sport, especially as a Black female, what she’s been able to accomplish, no one else has been able to do those things.”
In moving on, Felix, who plans to run in an August “street race” in her hometown of Los Angeles, leaves behind a glittering resume that will be hard to replicate. Her longevity in the sport is unmatched, particularly when you consider her first Olympic medal, a silver in the 200 at the 2004 Athens Games, came at age 18; in Tokyo last summer. At 35, she won both a bronze in the 400 and gold in the 4×400 relay.
This weekend, she will try to add to her world championship medal count, which currently sits at 18.
“Her longevity and her excellence, we take those things for granted in the moment,” Richards-Ross said. “But when you look back and reflect on the greats who just had a glimmer and you hold them up against someone like Allyson, who went to 10 world championships and five Olympics, her level of excellence is unmatched.”
Making ‘real change for women’
At USATF Outdoor Championships, where she finished sixth in the 400, Felix said she’s leaving the sport in good, young hands.
But to hear them tell it, Felix has tasked those up-and-comers with much more than running fast and piling up medals, because her legacy extends far beyond the track.
The next generation of U.S. sprinting superstars includes 22-year-old Abby Steiner, a recent University of Kentucky graduate who shattered the NCAA 200 record at the NCAA championships on June 11, running a 21.80. Steiner improved that two weeks later at the outdoor championships, clocking the fastest time (21.77) in the world this year. She is a medal contender next week in the 200.
Growing up in Ohio, Steiner couldn’t help but notice Felix — and not just for her dominance, but her voice, too.
“The way she’s fought for women, the battles she’s been through, she’s taken her experiences and made real change for women everywhere,” Steiner said. “It’s really inspirational. And that’s what it’s all about — the bigger picture.”
In the second half of her career, Felix, often depicted as the shy, soft-spoken phenom from Los Angeles who burst onto the scene as a teenager, blossomed into a steady, fierce advocate for women.
In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, Felix disclosed that Nike, her longtime sponsor and one of the most powerful apparel companies in the world, said after having Cammy, Felix would get 70% less pay.
Her revelation caused an outcry across women’s sports. In response to Felix and other athletes’ criticism of how sponsors treat working moms, many companies added pregnancy protections to athlete contracts. Later that year, Felix testified in front of Congress about racial disparities in maternal mortality (In, the United States, Black women are more than three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women.) Last month, she spoke candidly of her sadness in Roe v. Wade being overturned.
Felix left Nike and runs now under Athleta, which also sponsors gymnastics great Simone Biles. Felix runs in Saysh shoes, a company she founded.
Felix knows she’s walking away at the right time, as the fight she’s long been known for her — her 400-meter bronze finish in Tokyo, where she came from behind, was classic, gritty Felix — has faded. She said she has “no doubt” that she’s ready to go, and focus instead on growing Saysh and advocating for causes important to her. The passion she once felt for running has moved to her projects off the track. Growing Saysh, she said, “is my next great challenge.”
Challenge is where Felix thrives. For years, Felix has called the 200 “my baby,” a phrase she joked might be out of date because “I have a real baby now, so I’m not sure how that works.” It is easily her favorite race. But in later years she’s specialized in the 400, pushing herself to succeed in one of the sport’s most grueling events, and one she doesn’t personally like that much. (At outdoor nationals, she quipped, “I feel a lot of gratitude for everything, but it’s hard to truly enjoy the 400.”) The challenge of the race, both physically and mentally, appealed to her.
That drive, to succeed in something she doesn’t always find joy in, is part of what separates Felix from everyone else, Richards-Ross said. And should Felix want a new event to conquer, Richards-Ross pointed to Cammy’s idea about Felix switching to mid-distance.
“Aren’t kids the best?” Richard-Ross said, laughing. “It’s like, if you really want a challenge, Allyson, here you go, here’s the steeplechase.”
Given Felix’s history, she’d probably find a way to win there, too.
Follow sports enterprise reporter Lindsay Schnell on Twitter at @Lindsay_Schnell