A stalwart of American track and field, Allyson Felix won bronze after edging out Stephenie Ann McPherson of Jamaica in 49.46 with power and grit, earning her extraordinary 10th medal at the Olympic Games.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo beat all comers, winning in 48.36 seconds to defend her Olympic title from Rio de Janeiro, repeating a personal-best to give the Bahamas a sweep of both the women’s and men’s 400-meter.
A near lock for a spot on the 4x400m relay team—an event in which she ran the prelims at the most recent world championships in Doha, winning her 13th world title—Felix now has a chance to surpass Carl Lewis in what will surely be one of the most memorable moments of the Games.
“A lot of times, I have tied my own work to what happens in these championships,” Felix said. “And I didn’t want to do that this time. I’ve been through too much. I always run for gold. But I just wanted to have joy no matter what happened tonight.”
In her history-making moment, Felix’s 10th Olympic medal broke a tie with Jamaican runner Merlene Ottey and matched Carl Lewis, who also won 10 medals and was alone as the most-decorated U.S. athlete in track. Paavo Nurmi of Finland holds the all-time mark with 12 medals from 1920 to 1928.
Felix could pass Lewis on Saturday if the U.S. puts her in the 4×400 relay final. Lewis praised Felix in a tweet after her bronze-winning run.
Since competing in Rio, Felix became a mother, giving birth daughter Camryn in November 2018 via emergency C-section. She returned to the track in mid-2019 and surpassed Usain Bolt for most career world titles at the world championships. She helped to spearhead a conversation about the way women are treated in track and sports in general.
Almost immediately, she would sever ties with Nike, which wrote in pay reductions to women’s contracts if they became pregnant, and addressed racial disparities in maternal health care.
In leaving her well-cultivated private image behind to become a spokesperson, she stood up and was recognized for something much bigger.
“I feel like it’s definitely been a journey for me to get to the point where I guess I had the courage to do so,” Felix said.
This week, she gave voice to the topic that’s been filtering through the Tokyo Olympics—the pressure to win.
“When I line up for a race, I’m normally afraid,” Felix said in a heartfelt essay on Instagram, posted hours before the race. “I’m not afraid of losing. I lose much more than I win. That’s life and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Felix had to full-out exert herself to the max to make it into the medal race, making her sheer will an accomplishment for Team USA during the 2021 Tokyo Games. While not as young as her skills would bely, Felix took the last bend, and when in a battle for third with McPherson, she won it and then collapsed on the ground, excitedly relieved that she was now in the record books.
“The really, really hard moments are what I tried to tap into,” Felix said. “There was a moment we weren’t sure if I was going to make it. And here I am, at the Olympics at 35 years old. So, you know, who could ask for more?”