For the last two decades, Allyson Felix has been the face of American track & field. After bursting onto the scene at just 18 years old at the 2004 Athens Olympics, she’s gone on to become one of the most accomplished athletes in Olympic history.
Felix is a six-time gold medalist and nine-time medalist at the Olympics, leaving her just one medal shy of sprinting legend Carl Lewis as the most decorated USA Track & Field athlete of all time. She already holds 13 World Championship gold medals, the most of any American sprinter.
With the 2021 Olympic Trials quickly approaching, Felix has a chance to make her fifth Olympic Games and represent the United States in Tokyo later this summer. However, it’s her work off the track that has become even more important.
Since giving birth to her daughter Camryn in 2018, Felix has used her platform as an athlete to be an outspoken advocate for mothers and women worldwide.
When Nike threatened to cut her sponsorship pay by 70 percent after she gave birth, the Olympic sprinter penned her story in the New York Times, helping lead to changes in the company’s policy. After facing life-threatening complications during her own pregnancy, Felix dedicated her time to raising awareness about the dangers that women of color face as soon-to-be mothers.
At 35 years old, Felix continues to push the envelope by championing causes near and dear to her heart.
I caught up with Allyson Felix to discuss how she’s used her platform to speak out about Black motherhood, her preparations during a unique Olympic cycle, her place in USA Track & Field history and much more.
The Spun: I want to start by asking about the work that you’re doing with P&G. What did it mean to be included in the “Your Goodness is Your Greatness” campaign along with some other really talented athletes?
Allyson Felix: I think it’s really incredible what P&G is doing by using their platform and this Olympic stage to really encourage people to lead with love, especially with how they’re highlighting athletes who are using their voices to help others. For me, that’s about raising awareness surrounding the maternal mortality crisis for Black women and advocating for women in general. So I think it’s great and I’m really excited to be a part of it.
The Spun: As you’ve mentioned, you’ve used your platform in a lot of ways to be outspoken about the maternal mortality crisis. What has that experience has been like so far?
Felix: It’s been really incredible. I think just my own experience with my daughter and the complications that I had really opened my eyes to the crisis that women, and especially women of color are facing. Once my eyes were open to that, I just wanted to get involved and I wanted to do more work. I saw that organizations were doing such great work around this and I just saw how I could help amplify the voices and just bring awareness [to the issue]. It’s been a great experience and obviously, there’s a lot more to do, but I really want to stay involved.
The Spun: It’s almost been two years since you wrote your Nike pregnancy column in the New York Times. Since then, you were named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, which is quite the accomplishment. What has it been like to see the impact that you’ve made on the conversation around pregnancy discrimination in sports?
Felix: It’s been crazy. When I was really faced with the decision, if I was going to speak out or not, I was terrified. I didn’t know what was going to happen next or the consequences that I was going to face or even if I was going to have another sponsor.
There was this outpouring of support and encouragement from other women and some men as well. It just made me feel like I was absolutely where I needed to be and doing the right thing. I think a lot of times you think about change, and you want to create it, but this was a real place where I had the opportunity to affect something. Nike changed their policy, so really seeing some actual things happen… it was encouraging.
Allyson Felix writes, “I’ve been one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes. If I can’t secure maternity protections, who can?” https://t.co/38lBYh2xi5
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 22, 2019
The Spun: Why did you sign with Athleta after that?
Felix: For me, I just saw value in more than financial gain. To me, it made sense that I didn’t want to be a part of another marketing campaign. I felt like this was such an authentic partnership, and with the company being 97% female, I felt like I had a true seat at the table and that they were really bringing me in and valued me in a different way.
We had this whole idea of redefining what sponsorship looks like for female athletes and really celebrating an athlete holistically. Yes, what you do on the field of play, but also who you are outside of that.
The Spun: I have to assume that you and your coach Bobby Kersee have made some serious training adjustments over this last year, not only to adjust to a postponed Olympics, but obviously with the COVID-19 pandemic. What has training looked like over this last year?
Felix: It’s looked crazy. We have literally been training everywhere. There was a point where we were training in my neighborhood and [Bobby] was, like, measuring out distances. I think that’s when we were really in the thick of things and there was a lot of uncertainty. We were at empty baseball fields and soccer fields, just wherever we could get.
Then we left for a period of time and went to Arizona, which was a bit more open. Now that we’re back, things are looking up and much more hopeful and we’re back training at UCLA. I think that the most challenging thing was just actually finding a track after being kicked off of multiple tracks here in LA.
The Spun: There was this little detail in this Ramona Shelburne story from April of 2020 and it really stood out to me. You guys were training just on the street in a neighborhood, but after the workout, you were stretching and your daughter Cameron came over and sat with you. What has it been like to compete and train at the highest level for this Olympic cycle with her at your side?
Felix: It just puts everything into perspective. I remember that day that Ramona came out and I was literally exhausted from training on this hill in front of my house and then Cammy came and walked over. It’s just trying to integrate the two things together, your family and your work. And I think a lot of people are faced with that right now. Some days are great and some days it works well, and other days are really challenging and you’re exhausted.
You’ve got to put on the mom hat as soon as you come home. I think each day is figuring it out and being okay that there’s no perfect way that this is going to happen.
I don’t have all the answers and it’s a team effort. Thankfully, I have a lot of great support, helping me through this. I think that’s the only way that I’m even able to have this opportunity is by my family really stepping up and helping me there.
The Spun: You’re just over one month away now from the Olympic Trials. You’ve had a lot of extra preparation, but you’ve also had an extra year of mileage. How are you feeling just over a month out?
Felix: I feel good. I think when the Olympics was postponed, I was really nervous about it. I felt like, oh my gosh I could be a year older, like, I’m ready to go now. But I think I’ve really been able to take advantage of that extra year. I feel stronger, and just really excited to finally being close and being able to go after that Olympic team.
The Spun: You’re just one medal away from Carl Lewis’s U.S. Olympic record of 10 medals. Do you ever think about your longevity in the sport, because you’ve done this since 2004 and you’ve been at the top for so long? Does that ever sink in for you?
Felix: I try not to really think about it. There will be lots of time afterwards to think about it. I just try to focus on what the goal is right now. For me, that’s making the fifth Olympic team which would just mean so much to me with everything that I’ve been through the last couple of years. Then I think I’ll put it in the context of history later on once I accomplish the path.
— Allyson Felix (@allysonfelix) May 3, 2021
The Spun: You’ve mentioned that this will likely be your last Olympics. Is that still the case?
Felix: Right now, that’s how I feel. I’m really focused on this one and I don’t have plans to do another. I want to be able to end on my terms and I think that this one would be extremely special. For me, it’s just so much bigger than just running now. It really is about so much more. It’s taken a journey to get to this place. So this accomplishment of just making the team would be really good.
The Spun: You’ve had all of this incredible success on the track and then you’ve also become such an incredible advocate in so many different ways. When you look back and when your career is over, what do you want people to think when they hear the name Allyson Felix?
Felix: I think if you would have asked me that question a few years ago, the maximum would have been fast times and all of those very sports-specific things. Now, I hope my name is in the conversation of just advocating for women, you know? [I want to] make the sport a better place and an easier journey for women because that’s what’s really been most impactful. It started off with the things on the track, but I think it’s become much bigger than that.
Felix plans to run her specialities, the 200 meters and the 400 meters at the U.S Track & Field Olympic Trials in June. Just last weekend, she finished second in the 200 meters at the Golden Games with a time of 22.26.
Regardless of her performance at Olympic Trials in just over a month’s time, Felix’s place in history is already secure. Whenever she decides to hang up her running spikes for good, she’ll be remembered not only for her success on the track, but for her contributions to society as a whole.
This interview with Allyson Felix is presented by Procter & Gamble, which launched two films, Your Goodness is Your Greatness and Love Leads to Good, for the Tokyo Olympics. You can find more information about P&G’s Olympic campaign here.