Allyson Felix: Then vs. Now

Allyson Felix raced her last meet in July. Let’s celebrate by looking back to one of her first senior competitions.

By Alexandra Cadet

Then: Arrival of a Star

Inside one of Allyson Felix’s earliest star-making moments.

The year is 2003: a time of garish fashion, terrible wars, and post-Y2K excitement. 

The 2003 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships are set to occur in June, with the 2004 Summer Olympics around the corner. And on the cusp of finishing high school, a teenage Allyson Felix is ready to make her mark on the 200m dash at nationals. 

Felix is walking into this tournament with loads of pressure on her shoulders. A ticket to the 2003 World Championships is at stake, and comparisons are already being made between Felix and Marion Jones––the reigning Olympic Champion who’s currently on maternity leave. To her credit, Felix quickly brushes off these references. 

“I understand where people are coming from when they make the comparison, and I take that as a compliment, to be mentioned in the same sentence as Marion,” she says. “There are some similarities, but we’re not the same.” They’re not the same, sure. But the question is where that leaves Felix. Will she carve a unique legacy of her own? Or will she burn out, falling victim to the mammoth expectations that are too often placed on young athletes?

Allyson Felix makes the turn during a preliminary heat of the women’s 200 meters at the U.S. track and field championships in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, June 21, 2003. Felix won the heat with a time of 23.19 seconds. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

All signs at the moment point to the former. Earlier that year, she announced herself to the nation at the Banamex Grand Prix, posting a world record for sprinters under 20 in the 200m; she had also beat a couple of Jones’ high school records by that point. But attempting to qualify for a World Championship is a major step in Felix’s path to potential greatness. Whatever she does on the track in Palo Alto could dictate the rest of her career.

So she steps on the track. She accelerates during the final stretch. And she gets third place.

Well actually, that’s wrong––she gets second. What fans don’t know at the time is that less than a year later, Kelli White (the winner of the event) will be suspended for using PEDs; White’s competitive results at nationals will accordingly get wiped out. So after a little while, Felix lays claim to the 200m silver medal. But second, third, it’s all the same––since the teenager placed in the top three, she’s going to the World Championships in Paris.

Paris doesn’t quite work out for her: she advances past her initial heat, but is unable to reach the 200m semifinals. Nevertheless, the job of getting to the World Championships is done––and the stage is more than set for the rest of her career. Seven Olympic gold medals, seventeen years’ worth of World honors, and a legacy larger than life will follow. But even now, everyone is paying attention. Because Allyson Felix has arrived to take the track world by storm.

Now: Two Final Bows

Inside Allyson Felix’s final meet…and then, her actual final meet.

The year is now 2022.

And Allyson Felix has conquered the track and field world.

She’s earned a record amount of Olympic medals and an eye-watering amount of world honors. She has also earned a long, relaxing break from the sport––which is why she’s recently announced her retirement.

“As a little girl they called chicken legs, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I’d have a career like this,” she shared as part of an Instagram post in April. “I have so much gratitude for this sport that has changed my life. I have given everything I have to running and for the first time I’m not sure if I have anything left to give.” As she ran her final race as part of the 4×400 mixed relay at the 2022 World Championships, it was hard not to feel grateful that she was giving us one last gift. 

But here’s the catch––it wasn’t the last.

No, the last was her participation in the 4x400m women’s relay heat––almost immediately after her initial retirement. “I was actually having my first cheat-meal at my favorite hot wings spot […] I got a phone call from Bobby [Kersee, American sprint coach] and they were asking if I’d be willing to come back and, of course, I was ready and hopped on a plane and here we are,” Felix shared with the Olympics newsroom. 

So she runs again. She helps the U.S. squad place first in their prelim. And she earns another World gold medal, thanks to the results of the 4x400m women’s final. Tragically, she was never able to finish that plate of wings.

Her first and last races help to illustrate why Felix is truly a GOAT of track & field: just when you think she has nothing left in her tank, she surprises you once more. Sometimes she does it by placing second at a senior competition as a teenager. Or she does it by following up her rough 2003 World Championship with piles of medals. And she was able to shock us one last time: by giving us that final show in the 4x400m, even after saying that she didn’t have anything left to give to the sport. That’s what makes her a great athlete, and it’s what makes her retirement all the more emotional: in her long career on the track, Allyson Felix gave the sport everything. 

Allyson Felix is a champion and an inspiration––then and now. And she gets to walk off into the sunset having given her sport––not to mention, its fans––more than they could possibly ask for.

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