OROf course they called it chicken feet. The ninth graders are the worst. Clearly, the girls on the Los Angeles Baptist High track team were waiting to pounce on Allyson Felix, all stems and a shy cheeseburger back then. A nickname like that makes it clear that she was more of a blender than a world blender, anyone’s outstanding sprinter. But it didn’t take him long to turn that insult into an aspiration.
Here’s the thing about chickens: they are very difficult to catch. (Rocky could barely pin down one in a dirt alley, remember?) Once Felix started deadlifting 270 pounds at age 14 before replacing Marion Jones in the California high school record books , there was no more belittling this rare athlete. It was just seeing her run so fast and away from everyone who dared to doubt her that one could only half think she was flying.
On Saturday night at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, the American left her enemies even more in the dust. The most successful sprinter on a superstar relay team, Felix, 35, took over from 400m hurdles champion Sydney McLaughlin, 22, for the second leg of the women’s 4×400 final and ran a spectacular division that established 31- Dalilah Muhammad, 400-meter-old silver medalist, to open up a dominant lead. After Muhammad gave way to the 800-meter golden girl Athing Mu, the United States achieved a victory by more than three seconds over Poland and Jamaica.
Just the night before, in the women’s 400m final, Felix fought her way down the outer lane and edged Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson to bronze. At the end of both races, Felix couldn’t seem more unflappable as he sat at the side of the track with his elbows on his knees, staring at everyone like a woman waiting for a bus. It was almost as if he thought there was more to be done. It doesn’t matter that this was his last round at the Olympics.
In total, Felix leaves Tokyo with two medals at this Olympiad and 11 for her career (including seven golds), making her the most decorated American track and field athlete in history, more decorated even than the esteemed Carl Lewis. . “I’m not too focused on winning more medals,” Felix said after his 400-meter bronze. “I think many times I tied my work to what happens in these championships, and this time I did not want to do that.”
It’s worth remembering: before Lewis became famous for an out of tune performance of the hymn Y worst first pitch ever, was the Olympic standard, dominating the long jump, 100m and 200m for 10 medals in his career, seven of them individual golds. Sports Illustrated, the IOC and IAAF are just a few who recognized Lewis as the first athlete of the twentieth century. But perhaps even more significant than that, he claimed the distinction that matters most on the track: the fastest man in the world.
But where Lewis was an electrician, sui generis Felix, a performer with a flair for the dramatic, is more like track-and-field Tom Brady, astonishing in his physical durability and clutch reliability. He sticks to what he does best (200m and 400m), lowers his head and goes about his business in silence, gliding with technical grace that reveals years of training both relentless and invisible. When the lights are brightest and the medals are on the table, you know that Felix is running away with something.
And yet, in a sport where peacocks and breast-pounding abound, Felix stands out for his classic understatement. Any pretentious idea that she is a cold automaton programmed to add praise disappears the moment she smiles or speaks. Truly, Felix’s ability to remain humble and magnanimous regardless of the outcome or the situation could be his most winning quality. And that could be attributed to his character just as easily as to his deep Christian faith. As the role models go, Chicken Legs is the ultimate two-piece combo: transcendent. Y identifiable, a physical wonder mom with perfect abs and a cesarean scar, a special egg in the mold of the great Jackie Joyner-Kersee, which was perhaps inevitable given the close family ties; Not only is the great heptathlete a longtime mentor, but her husband, Bob, is Felix’s coach.
On top of all that, Felix has his own mind and the courage of his convictions. From pushing for pay equity to defending working mothers To march in protests against racism against blacks, Felix does not hesitate to put his foot on the edge of the most difficult issues. And when it came to the discussion of mental health in sports and at the Olympics, she was one of the first to enter the fray. But what may well define his particular legacy is the stance he took without speaking. Back in the decades, the track and field were at their dirtiest, like Jones and other Balco patients They were taking record after record, Felix was still the clean queen whose times were eminently trustworthy. Watching her walk away with that long, sweeping stride (especially in these last two races), you don’t just think she’s giving it her all, but it’s all her as well.
The idea of American exceptionalism is an unstable proposition even in the best of times. But if ever there was an athlete to embody him, who better than the skinny little black girl from Santa Clarita who he met and defied all of her high expectations on the road to setting an impossibly high standard of excellence. And as relentlessly as that original high school impression haunts her, through marriage, childbirth, and a full career, well, who can’t relate to that, too? In the race between your good name and your courageous handling, there will always be a rush to point out which came first. But Felix can at least say that she got the last laugh in the end.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism