Allyson Felix’s Legacy On and Off the Track
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
Allyson Felix’s legendary track and field career came to an end at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. With the home crowd cheering her on, she ran the second leg of the mixed 4x400-meter relay and ultimately won a bronze medal with teammates Elija Godwin, Vernon Norwood, and Kennedy Simon. This marked Felix’s 19th career world championships medal and only extended her record for the most decorated athlete at the World Athletics Championships. She is also the most decorated female track and field athlete in Olympic history with 11 medals during her five Olympic appearances. In addition to her impressive athletic accomplishments, Allyson Felix has brought attention to the Black maternal health crisis and paved the way for athletes to make their own decisions about starting a family and working with companies that respect them.
Felix’s incredible athletic abilities were apparent early on in her track career. She began running in ninth grade when she joined her high school’s track team and made her world championships debut in her senior year. She did not compete in the NCAA because she waived her eligibility by signing professional contracts with brands after graduating from high school in 2003. The following year, she competed at the 2004 Olympic Games and won the silver medal in the 200 meters behind Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell Brown. She won her first world title in 2005 in the 200 meters and defended this title in 2007. At the 2008 Olympic Games, she once again won the silver medal in the 200 meters behind Campbell Brown, but she won her first Olympic gold medal in the 4×400 meters relay.
Felix defeated her rival Veronica Campbell Brown at the 2009 World Championships to win her third consecutive 200 meters title. Then at the 2011 World Championships, she won gold in both of her relay races but only silver in the 400 meters and bronze in the 200 meters. She finally won the Olympic gold medal in the 200 meters in 2012 against a stacked field, including the two-time defending champion Cambell Brown. Additionally, she won gold medals in the 4×100 meters relay with a world record time and in the 4×400 meters relay, and she placed fifth in the 100 meters with a personal best time.
At the 2013 World Championships, Felix did not finish the 200 meters race due to a hamstring injury. She chose to focus on the 400-meter race at the 2015 World Championships due to a schedule conflict with the 400-meter final and the 200-meter semi-final, and she won the gold medal becoming the first woman to win world titles in both the 200 meters and the 400 meters. She then won three medals at the 2016 Olympic Games despite an ankle injury earlier in the year. She won gold in the 4×100 meter relay and the 4×400 meter relay and silver in the 400 meters behind Shaunae Miller by only 0.07 seconds. Felix became the most decorated athlete in World Athletics Championships history in 2017 when she won gold in both the 4x100 and 4x400 meter relays and bronze in the 400 meters.
In 2018, Felix experienced a pregnancy complication and a contract battle that would guide her advocacy work and inspire others to stand up for themselves. In the 32nd week of her pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia and had to undergo an emergency C-section, and her daughter Camryn spent several weeks in neonatal intensive care. This life-threatening experience inspired her to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee in 2019 on the topic of the Black maternal mortality crisis. Then in May 2019, she published a New York Times op-ed accusing her long-time sponsor Nike of offering a 70-percent reduction in her compensation during a contract renewal agreement due to her decision to start a family. These allegations echoed complaints from Olympic runners Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher of Nike reducing compensation due to pregnancy. Nike later adopted a new maternal policy that secured an athlete’s pay for 18 months if they became pregnant. After leaving Nike, Felix became the first sponsored athlete for Athleta, a women-focused activewear brand, and Simone Biles later made the same move from Nike to Athleta. Then in 2021, Felix launched her own women’s sneaker and lifestyle brand called Saysh.
Felix returned to competition in 2019 and won world championship gold medals in both the mixed 4×400 meter relay and the women's 4×400 meter relay and surpassed Usain Bolt for having the most gold medals in World Athletics Championship history. She then made her fifth Olympic appearance at the postponed 2020 Olympic Games, running in her own Saysh shoes. She won the bronze medal in the 400 meters and the gold medal in the women's 4×400 meter relay, making her the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history with a total of 11 medals. She decided to run for one more season in order to end her career in front of a home crowd, receiving a standing ovation during her final race at the 2022 World Championships.
Allyson Felix’s international track and field career spanned nearly two decades despite several injuries and a pregnancy complication. Her medal haul is certainly legendary, but the way she has used her voice and her status to influence change is perhaps more impressive. Speaking out against and eventually leaving Nike, a juggernaut in athletics, was a career-threatening move that has already inspired other athletes to forge their own paths. Overall, Allyson Felix’s career on and off the track will leave a lasting impact on the athletes who come after her.