Eugene, OR. – Never mind because she passed at the end of her last race around the track. Or finish with a bronze instead of a gold.
For an unforgettable 15 seconds on Friday night at the World Championships, Alisson Felix was running alone in the sun, past the stands and moving away from the field down the back. A few minutes later, she takes the newly won award and hangs it around the neck of her 3-year-old daughter.
“I felt loved,” Felix said of her last trip on the big stage. “And I felt joy ran tonight.”
She is 36 years old now. So it wasn’t much of a shock that a runner 11 years younger than her, Marilyde Paulino of the Dominican Republic winning team, finally knocked her out. Nor great shame, either, that the United States, saves the rest of its vaunted star power with the great races ended. In the next nine days of this meet, he finished third in the 4x400m mixed relay, also behind the Netherlands.
However, third place awarded Felix her 19th World Championships medal, adding to the record she had already set. Adding her to the 11 she took at the Olympics, she will finish her career with 30 in the biggest sporting events.
Some would say that the bronze medal seems like a disappointment to the most decorated sprinter in US history. However, others, including Felix herself, have compared her to the bronze she won in the women’s 400 last year at the Tokyo Olympics – a medal she ranks as one of her most cherished victories.
“It feels similar,” she said. “In the last couple of years I’ve only come out with the watch and the medals, I would have never imagined it would be a place to come.”
The once-shy teen is now an outspoken advocate for women and mothers in and out of the sport. Much of that resulted from being a mother, then fighting, and eventually leaving her, Nike, lowering her salary while she was pregnant.
Felix underwent an emergency caesarean section eight weeks before her due date. She and her daughter Cami were left struggling to stay in the hospital room. Any running whatsoever, let alone the medals accompanying him, seems like a bonus at this point.
“There is no single story that can explain its impact on the sport,” said Elijah Godwin, who officiated the first leg and was the last teammate to hand the baton to Felix. “Over the years she’s done it, she’s become an icon, and for us to go out and compete with her, to have that opportunity is a blessing.”
Google got into the act. A search of Felix’s name on Friday night revealed all of her credentials, covered in an animation of her running across a computer screen followed by the phrase “Olympic. Mother. Lawyer.”
It’s all part of a fitting finale for Cammy’s mom, who, Felix said, was definitely going out ice cream after the race, and didn’t wait backstage for Mom to finish interviews.
Felix only entered the mixed relay after failing to qualify for the worlds in a singles race. When her name was initially announced, the full thirds at the first World Championships to be held in the United States cheered as loudly as they had been all night.
Until, that is, I hit the back.
Goodwin had little progress when the stick passed her, and in the first 200m of the last lap around the track, Felix widened the margin. Her arms were swollen and her knees were dressed high in such an almost perfect shape that only her could belong to her. But it faded after she turned her final curve and grabbed Paulino.
Her feelings when she crossed the line?
“The first thing I felt was lactic acid,” she said.
Vernon Norwood reclaimed the lead in the second leg, but Dominican Fiordaliza Covel beat American Kennedy Simon on the anchor, then hurdler Vimick Paul made a big late charge to give Holland the silver. The Dominican Republic won in 3 minutes 9.82 seconds by 0.08 seconds.
“I beat her twice,” said Paulino, who finished second in the 400 meters in Tokyo. “But for me you will always be the best in the world. It has opened a better path for all of us.”
The US finished at 3:10.16. The statistics newspaper said Felix ran the last 400 meters in 50.15 seconds. It wasn’t even close to the 47.72-second split in which I ran a 4×400 gold medal at the 2015 worlds – still the fastest ever by an American woman – but that’s not the point.
“It feels like we’re part of history,” Goodwin said. “And to have a picture with her, that’s the most important thing to me. I just want to remember my picture with her, and to remember her for this.”
Felix’s last medal capped the opening day which also saw qualifying in the men’s 100.
American Fred Curley, silver medalist at last year’s Olympics, finished in 9.79 seconds – a super fast time for a preliminary round that was just 0.03 off his season high and was 0.01 faster than Italy’s Marcel Jacobs’ victory last year in Tokyo.
All the other big names have stepped in: Jacobs, Marvin Brassey, Olympic bronze medalist Andre de Grasse, 2011 world champion Johann Blake, and Christian Coleman, who is defending his world title after missing the Olympics due to a suspension related to missing doping tests.
The first medals at the meet came in the 20-kilometer walk, with Kimberly Garcia winning Peru’s first-ever world medal with a time of 1:26:28. Toshikazu Yamaneshi of Japan successfully defended his men’s title with a time of 1: 19.07.
But it was the last medal of the night that everyone at Hayward Field will remember.
Felix smiled widely as World Athletics President Sebastian Coe hung a bronze around her neck and shook hands with second man Douglas Imhoff, who was handy for her presentation.
Felix stood upright while the national anthem of the Dominican Republic was played. But she felt like a winner. Her last race came at the biggest time in her homeland, with her daughter there to watch.
“Obviously I’m not in the prime of my career, but to be able to finish here tonight, with Cammy in the stands, and share that moment with her, it means a lot,” said Felix.