Her numbers are earth-shattering. In three Olympic appearances, she’s won nine medals; six gold, three silver and, following the 2016 Rio Olympics, she’s now the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history.
That record doesn’t just make Allyson Felix a good athlete, it makes her the best. Period.
But Felix isn’t really one to believe her own hype. If you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s just a girl who loves God, is passionate about running and dedicated to doing her best. She recently sat down with EBONY to recap the 2016 Olympic Games, talk about her life and career and discuss what it means to belong to such an elite sorority of female track legends.
EBONY: Tell us, who is Allyson Felix?
Allyson Felix: I think I’m a person who is proud of my [Christian] faith and where I come from. I’m an athlete who’s very determined, and I understand sacrifice. I’m passionate about my sport and grateful that I get to do it for a living.
EBONY: When you were a freshman in high school, you went out for the track team. Four short years later, you were running for a living as an Olympian. At what point did you realize you had been called to run?
Felix: Well, it was all kind of a whirlwind at the beginning. I didn’t really realize that I had a special gift from God. It was probably toward the end of high school in my senior year when things really started to come together. I realized I had more potential, that I could do this as a career and that the Olympics were a possibility.
EBONY: Was there a specific moment during that time when you thought, ‘You know what, I may just be the best in the world?’
Felix: [Laughs] Well, there was a race that I was running in Mexico City and I was the only high school athlete running against grown women. It was a professional race, but I ended up winning. That was kind of a turning point for me where I felt like, “OK, I’m pretty good at this and there’s a possibility for this to be a career for me.” That was a defining moment for me.
EBONY: Let’s talk about another one of your defining moments. In your first Olympic appearance in 2004, you finished second in the 200-meter race. You finished second in the 200-meter race again in 2008, but this time you were so disappointed to have finished second, you collapsed in your mom’s arms. You came back and won gold in that event in 2012. What did your mom say to you in that moment to help you regroup?
Felix: My mom always has this amazing ability to always see the best in a situation. In that moment I was just completely devastated. I mean, I had worked so hard; that was my opportunity. And she was just able to turn it around for me. She helped me to be able to see the other side of things and that this is not the end for me. She’s just an amazing supporter and an encouraging person, and she has a unique ability to do that. So those are the kind of things she said to me in that moment and over the next four years. When things get tough, she’s always been my strength.
EBONY: You actually teamed up with Bounty this year and turned that moment into a commercial. You could have just made the commercial about your success; why did you think it was important to highlight a time when you came up short?
Felix: Everyone sees the glory moments, but they don’t see what happens behind the scenes. There are moments that aren’t great. I think it’s amazing for people to be able to have some insight, to be able to see the support system and what really happens. That was the idea behind this as well—every moment is not great and, sometimes, those are the moments in which you learn the most. I feel like that was one of my greatest defeats, but it was also my biggest lesson learned. I thought it was really special that Bounty felt like this was something to celebrate my mom and to show what she does behind the scenes.
EBONY: In 2016, you became the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history. How does that feel? How has such an accomplishment changed your life?
Felix: It feels really good. It’s kind of strange because it happened during a year that was so tough and there were so many challenges at the Games, but it was amazing to be able to see that I had made this bit of history. I feel like I’m always going to be me. It always goes back to being the person that I am. And I hope that will never change. These accomplishments are amazing and I’m grateful for them, but I think at the end of the day, not too much will change.
EBONY: You just mentioned facing a lot of challenges at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Did you feel, even having done as well as you did, that Shaunae Miller cheated you by diving across the finish line in the 400-meter race?
Felix: I don’t feel that she cheated me because she didn’t break any rules or anything like that, but I do feel like it’s a very difficult way to lose. Having worked so hard and I know that that was such a close race, it just kind of made it even harder to deal with defeat just because of how it was done. But I don’t think that she had any ill intention by it or did it on purpose. I think it just kind of happened.
EBONY: We’re about the same age, so I know firsthand that the body doesn’t quite do at age 30 what it did at age 26. Was this your last Olympic Games?
Felix: I’m just going to take it year by year. As you get older, there are going to be a few more challenges, but thankfully, I’m still feeling good. For me, it’s really important to be able to compete on the highest level. As long as I’m passionate about the sport, I’m able to do that and I’m happy, then I would love to do another Olympics. I’m just going to see how I’m feeling.
EBONY: Your name is now going to be mentioned in the same breath as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith-Joyner and even Wilma Rudolph. What does it mean to you? What is your message to them as your predecessors?
Felix: First of all, it’s so strange. I feel like my name does not belong on that list, but I’m completely grateful for everything that they’ve done. I know that they have paved the way, and they have been a source of inspiration. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for what they did. Not only were they phenomenal athletes, but [they were also] amazing people. Jackie Joyner-Kersee is actually someone I have a personal relationship with and who continues to do amazing things in her community. I continue to be inspired by her. If I can emulate myself after someone it’s her and I just hope to have that effect on my community and continue to go on to do things like she has. They’ve been perfect role models, and that’s something that I hope to be as well.
Keep up with Sylvia Snowden at www.trulysylvia.com.