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Allyson Felix made it very clear that this was her final year of competition. She’s accomplished basically everything there is to accomplish and now she’s on her farewell tour. After the U.S. won a bronze medal in the mixed-gender 4×400-meter relay tonight at the World Championships, Felix was asked about her favorite moment over her career—a career that’s spanned over two decades, five Olympic Games, and countless other accomplishments. She said, “I’ll go with tonight.” She’s cherishing the end. “To be able to come here in front of a home crowd is something I’ve always wanted.”
Her daughter was in the stands. Her husband was in the stands. And it’s as though the rest of the people in Hayward Field were her family. It’s like she’s the only person who matters. She’s the homecoming queen, the poster girl, the best dressed person at the party. If you were blindfolded and you had to guess when Felix got the baton by just using your ears, it wouldn’t be very hard.
Team USA’s bronze medal is Felix’s 19th medal at a World Championships, the most of any athlete in history. She’s now won a medal at eight separate World Championships, which is a record. (She used to share it with Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya with seven.)
“There was a moment when I could hear all the cheers. I felt joy tonight,” she said. “I just looked around. I was just taking it in. It’s the last time.”
Despite losing, Felix’s teammates were gracious. The media didn’t ask any of them about their personal races, their personal stories, only Felix. The man with the fastest split of anybody in the race, Vernon Norwood, said, “This bronze medal feels like it’s a gold medal since it’s her last.” Teammate Elija Godwin, the second fastest split in the race, said, “It feels like we’re part of history to be with her. I really just want my picture with her.” Norwood and Godwin were the only two men to split under 45 seconds in the field.
Everybody thought the Americans would win. They were the fastest team in the preliminary round earlier today and they traded out two of their athletes for others with faster PRs. They led or were in touch of the lead the entire race. They got to compete at a World Championships on home soil for the first time ever. But in the end they fumbled. It was as though it happened all at once: With 20 meters remaining, Team USA’s anchor leg Kennedy Simon visibly grimaced, gritted her teeth, and everybody knew what was going to happen. She tied up and it was like she was moving backward. Two teams got around her. The crowd collectively gasped, went silent for a few moments, then sat back down while the team from the Dominican Republic ran a victory lap.
The Dominican Republic won the race in 3:09.82, the second fastest time ever. With a very fast anchor leg (48.95) from the Olympic medalist Femke Bol, the Netherlands finished second in 3:09.90, a national record. The U.S. finished third in 3:10.16.
Felix got the baton in first and was 50 meters off the front and everybody was on their feet cheering for her. Today was the closest Hayward Field has ever been to maximum capacity and the volume of the crowd felt historic. It was her final lap, and she was running strong. Then the daydream ended. Halfway through the lap, the Dominican Republic’s second leg, Marileidy Paulino, had reeled in Felix. She blew around her on the final straight, splitting 48.47, the fastest leg of any woman in the field. Paulino’s split would be the second fastest time in the world this year if it were run in an open event.
Felix still split 50.15. She said she was proud. Her daughter is too young to register what she witnessed, but Felix said if tonight could teach her something it’d be that “It’s about being a fighter,” she said. “That’s a spirit I hope she carries over, a confidence I hope she has.”
The other woman on Team USA is 14 years younger than Felix and will probably never forget what she was a part of. Simon is only 22 and this was her first major championship race. She’s still in college at the University of Texas, a world apart from where Felix is now. “This whole season was a gradual progression to me getting here,” she said. “For me to be here… I’m satisfied.”
It appeared like the Americans lost the race in the anchor leg. Earlier in the day Kennedy ran the preliminary round and split 50.64, the second fastest split of any woman in the race. She had roughly eight hours to rest before the gun fired a second time, but appeared tired in the final.
It’s hard to show up once. It’s harder to show up twice. It’s even harder, still, to show up like Allyson Felix has, time and time again.