EUGENE, Ore. — It was the simplest of moments, on the brightest of stages: A mother and her precocious 2-year-old, sitting on the track in a sparkling new stadium – Mom beaming with joy, and daughter still trying to understand what all the fuss is about.
Allyson Felix just leaned back, looked at Camryn and smiled.
There were times when she wasn't sure she'd ever get back here, to the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, to once again earning a spot on Team USA. There was a life-threatening pregnancy complication. A public fight with one of her primary sponsors. And then, for good measure, a global pandemic.
"Man. It has been a fight to get here," Felix said in an interview on NBC. "And one thing I know how to do is fight."
That's why, as she turned down the home stretch in the women's 400-meter final, the 35-year-old Felix never wavered in her form or lost her focus. Whether she sped up, or the leaders in the race slowed, Felix closed the gap. She finished second with a time of 50.02 seconds to clinch her fifth trip to the Summer Olympics, and her first as a mother.
"Having her as motivation these past couple of years has just given me a whole new drive," said Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist who owns 13 world titles.
"Obviously she can't understand everything that has gone on for the past couple years. But I can't wait to tell her the stories, and how she's been my driving force."
One day, Felix will tell her daughter about her birth in November 2018, by way of emergency C-section. She will tell Camryn about Nike's attempt to cut her pay by 70% when she returned to the track, and the company declining to protect her pay if her post-pregnancy performances were not up to par.
"And then the postponement," Felix said, referencing the one-year delay of the Tokyo Olympics in the wake of COVID-19. "It just seemed like I was getting hit with thing after thing. And then the sponsorship battle. Just all of it, it just felt like, man, I hope something comes together for me. But I just kept fighting, and I knew I wanted to give it one more shot."
It has been 17 years since Felix first arrived at the Olympic trials, as a wide-eyed teenager from California in 2004. She has now won multiple gold medals in each of the past two iterations of the Games and a total of six golds overall.
Her performance Sunday ensured that she will compete individually in Tokyo at 400 meters, though she will likely also be part of at least one relay team – whether it's the women's 4x400 or the mixed-gender 4x400, which is a new event in 2021. Felix is scheduled to run the 200-meter dash at trials next week, as well.
Quanera Hayes, who is also a mom, won the women's 400 with a time of 49.78, while 23-year-old Wadeline Jonathas came in third, one-hundredth of a second behind Felix.
In a touching moment, as Felix and Hayes celebrated their performances, their kids exchanged a hug on the track.
"Guys, we're going to Tokyo!" Felix told them.
"Can you say 'Supermommies?'" said Hayes.
Felix has said she intends to retire before the next Summer Games, in Paris in 2024, so Tokyo will be her final Olympic hurrah. She hopes that her performances along the way will send a message not just to moms who are athletes, but to all moms who are returning to their jobs after giving birth.
"I think society tells us a lot of times you have a child, and your best moments are behind you. But that's absolutely not the case," Felix said. "I'm representation of that. Quanera is. There's so many women across industries who are out here, who are doing it and getting it done. And I hope that when they watch and they see me, that they see that it's possible. And without a doubt, we're going to keep fighting."