“We’re going to Tokyo!”
The exclaim came just after the women’s 400m final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track and field on Sunday (20 June), with the 1-2 finishers – Allyson Felix and Quanera Hayes – crouched down on the track.
With them – their children: Allyson’s two-year-old daughter, Cammy, and Quanera’s son, as well.
The moment was a special one: Hayes was headed to her first Olympic Games, Felix her fifth - but first as a mum. Two mothers, challenging the limitations put on them by others, and once again proving that each athlete controls their own destiny.
“Society tells us a lot of times that if you have a child [then] your best moments are behind you,” Felix told reporters after securing her Tokyo 2020 spot. “But that's absolutely not the case. I am representation of that.”
Felix, now 35, has become an icon in athletics over the last 17 years, at age 18 breaking onto the scene with a silver medal in the 200m at Athens 2004, then building a legacy over the next three Olympics that included six gold medals.
But in November 2018, when she delivered Cammy via an emergency C-section, the Olympics seemed like a far-off dream.
Sunday she made them a reality – officially.
“I knew that this was going to be my last Olympic Trials. Having my daughter here was icing on the cake.” - Allyson Felix
Felix: I was going to 'leave it all on the track'
In the 400m final, Felix had to scrap and fight her way into the top three, lost in the middle of the pack with only 50 metres to go in one of athletics’ most demanding races. But her experience kicked in and she not only got into qualifying position, but nipped Wadeline Jonathas at the finish for second.
“I’m just proud of making it to this moment,” a grinning Felix said. “There's been so much that has gone into this and many times [when] I wasn't sure it was going to be possible, so I guess I'm proud of just fighting it and making a way somehow.”
Felix said she’s “absolutely sure” she won’t try for Paris 2024, so her Olympic swan song is officially underway. In 2016, she finished behind a diving Shaunae Miller for silver, but this U.S. Trials wasn’t about the Olympic podium.
It was about the Olympics – as a podium. For a mother, athlete and leader who has blazed new trails throughout her career.
“Honestly, I just told myself before the race that, you know, when it comes down to it, I have to fight,” Felix said. “And that's been a theme of mine for the past couple of years. And I've constantly found myself in those positions and I was just going to give my all and leave it all on the track.”
Allyson's message to Cammy: 'Don't give up'
Asked if she thought this was one of her all-time great comebacks, Felix said she would have to watch the tape back: She was so in the moment she wasn’t even sure.
What was certain was the watching eyes of young Cammy, who sat in the stands with Allyson’s husband, Kenneth Ferguson, and Allyson’s family, clapping along and hugging mom after each of her three races.
Cammy made her way down to the track after the final, giving mum a kiss. Felix has worked hard to get back to this level, an Olympian once more.
“I just wanted to really show her no matter what, you do things with character, integrity, and you don't give up,” Felix said. “No matter the outcome, I want it to stay consistent with that.
"But having her as motivation through these past couple of years has just given me a whole new drive.” - Felix on daughter Cammy
Felix said there were moments from Cammy’s premature birth over the following months (in late 2018 and 2019) where she wasn’t sure if she could successfully get back to a competitive level.
“I really wasn't sure,” she said. “That first year back was just a real struggle and then the postponement. And it just seemed like I was just getting hit with thing after thing and then the sponsorship battle and just all of it. It just felt like, ‘Man, I hope something comes together for me.’ But I just kept fighting and I knew that, you know, I knew I wanted to give it one more shot.”
'She's living her best life'
The moment was made all that more special being shared with another mom in Hayes, who told Felix what an inspiration she has been to the other U.S. female athletes.
“[Quanera] shared some really special words with me about what I've been doing for women,” Felix said. “And to me that just really makes it worth it.”
What will Cammy remember of all of this?
“Oh, I think she's getting a lot more of it than I even expected,” Felix said, laughing. “But she's having fun. You know, she's playing all day long and coming to the meet, you know, in the evenings. So I think she's living her best life and doing it all.”
Sort of – in a way – just like mum.