TOKYO — Allyson Felix stood on the Olympic podium on Saturday night and closed her eyes.
She said she wanted to take it all in one last time.
Moments after winning the 4×400 meter relay in the final race of her storied Olympic career to become the most decorated American track & field athlete in the history of the Games with 11 medals, Felix finally allowed the weight of the moment to hit her.
As she stood alongside her teammates — Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu — with their gold medals around their necks as the national anthem played and a small but vocal crowd at Olympic Stadium looked on, she tried to appreciate every single second.
“To be surrounded by those women in that moment was really special,” she said.
A star-studded team made up of women who had all won individual medals this week was a fitting way to honor Felix’s legendary career that spanned five Olympic Games. McLaughlin, who turned 22 on Saturday won gold in the 400-meter hurdles, and Mu, who is 19 and won gold in the 800, are two of the brightest young stars on the American team and have grown up admiring Felix, 35, as the longtime face of the team. Muhammad, 31, is only a few years younger than Felix but she too was clear in what Felix has meant to her.
“She of course earned [the gold medal], but she’s so deserving of it too,” Muhammad said after the race. “And so definitely [I’ve] just [been] inspired by her throughout my entire career. And I’m really just honored to have been a part of this team with her on her last Olympics. I think we’re going to look back at this and just think about how special this moment really was.”
All three women said winning the relay was the high point of their Olympic Games. The team ran at a blistering pace from start to finish — and Mu, who anchored the race, crossed the finish line nearly four seconds in front of Poland, the second-place team. It was the fifth-fastest time in history.
When the race was over, the four women came together and said a prayer on the track before posing for pictures with the American flags. For Felix, it was the ultimate victory lap.
“I just came out really at peace, and wanting to soak it all in,” said Felix, the only one of the four who competed in the 400 meters earlier in these Games. “Obviously, [I had] complete confidence in the team. I think that is a really special team because we’re not 400-meter runners. I don’t see myself as a 400-meter specialist. We all do different things. It was really cool to come together, to get to close out the Olympic Games and, for me, my Olympic career.”
After a challenging pregnancy and childbirth with daughter Camryn in 2018 — Camryn’s first few weeks of life were spent in the NICU — Felix wasn’t sure if she would be able to make a comeback to the sport’s grandest stage.
But she was determined to make it back to the Olympics one last time and show her daughter anything was possible. And she wanted to inspire women everywhere to go after their dreams. Along the way, she’s become a vocal advocate for moms and female athletes. She publicly took on her former sponsor, Nike, which wanted to cut her endorsement compensation substantially when she became pregnant. Felix even testified in front of congress about the maternal health crisis facing the Black community and pled for action.
Felix qualified for the Olympic team with a second-place finish in the 400 meters at Trials in June as Camryn looked on from the stands. She knew the Olympics would be a challenge, but she wanted to leave it all out on the track and fought her way into the 400-meter finals.
“When I was younger, I don’t think I ever thought about making a final,” she said earlier this week. “It’s a humbling experience, but it’s also very rewarding to see the progress.”
By posting her fastest time since 2015, Felix earned the bronze. She said she hadn’t been focused on winning a medal, instead focus on running this last individual race at the Olympics for herself. Still, she called the medal “extra special.”
A day later, Felix was back on the podium. This time she was surrounded by women who are a part of her incredible legacy. She was emotional at times when speaking to the media after the race. She said she believed everything had led her to this moment.
“I had to go through challenges in the fight,” Felix said. “I’m absolutely where I’m supposed to be. You know, sometimes I think you just have to fight through it.”