Like many Olympians, USA track and field athlete Allyson Felix has been having an eventful journey to Tokyo 2020.
With four Games under her belt – and having just qualified for her fifth Olympics at the US trials on June 20 – Felix is an Olympic veteran used to pristine training conditions. The last year has been very different; she’s been training on empty soccer fields and beaches.
“It has been quite the experience, a lot of things I could never have predicted, a lot of challenges in the way,” six-time Olympic champion Felix tells CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.
“Really just having a solid place to train in, that’s been the biggest challenge,” she says. “I never would have imagined that that would be the case leading towards Tokyo.”
There has been one upside to Felix’s new training facilities. For a seasoned sprinter used to training in a group, the sound of cheering onlookers watching her run through the streets of Los Angeles was a welcome antidote to pandemic-induced isolation.
“It was really nice because I think it’s been a bit lonely during the pandemic,” she says. “My neighbors definitely have a better understanding of what I do now.”
A team effort
Felix’s two-year-old daughter Camryn has also made a few appearances on the track as the Olympian has juggled motherhood and training. “Having a young daughter at home, that’s a whole new world,” she says. “It’s given me a different motivation.”
Her journey to motherhood has not been easy. In November 2018 she struggled with preeclampsia and had an emergency C-section at 32 weeks to deliver her daughter. Despite the initial trials she says, “It’s my favorite title. I think it’s the best thing that I’ve ever done.”
Relying on the support of her family has been key to every Olympic journey, but especially this one.
Her husband, Kenneth Ferguson, took leave from his job at Chrysler and the family moved to Los Angeles from Michigan so Felix could train with her coach, Bob Kersee, ahead of Tokyo 2020.
“It’s really been a team effort, we’ve been focused on the Olympics as a family goal, and so he’s [Ferguson] been incredible.”
Juggling newfound parenthood with an unpredictable schedule can be taxing.
Felix says by starting the day writing in her gratitude journal – where she reflects on people, moments and experiences that she’s thankful for – has helped her stay centered, focused and hopeful.
“None of this stuff happens alone. There are so many people who pour into my life to be able to help me to have this opportunity.”
She’s also part of a global roster of athlete ambassadors supported by Olympic and Paralympic Tokyo 2020 Games partners Bridgestone Corporation.
She says their support helped her take a much-needed trip to Arizona in April, where she had the opportunity to concentrate on her training and spend time with her family. “It’s just been really cool to see everyone really step up and to show that support.”
Building her legacy
Becoming a parent has also helped Felix find her voice when it comes to speaking out against social injustice.
Thinking about the type of world she wants to raise her daughter in has opened her eyes. “I’ve always had the desire to win […] now it’s really about the way that I want to show her how to overcome adversity.”
She shared the importance of defining her legacy ahead of Tokyo 2020. “I think if you had asked me that question years ago, it would have been records on the track or how fast I ran,” she tells CNN Sport. “But now I think it’s really about having some impact on my sport.
“I really want my legacy to be one of someone who fought for women.”
Whether it be taking part in Black Lives Matter protests, battling injuries or standing up for maternal protections in contracts, she’s shown that change doesn’t happen in isolation.
“I hope to just continue to speak my truth and to stand up for my community and stand up for others who don’t have a voice as loud.”
This summer Felix will have to find alternative pathways to channel her activism, as the ban preventing athletes from protesting or demonstrating at Tokyo 2020 has been upheld by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“It would have been amazing to be able to shine a light on some of these really, really important issues. It was a bit disappointing,” she says of the IOC’s decision.
She cites Sydney McLaughlin, Simone Biles and Sha’Carri Richardson as fellow Black women athletes whose social presence she admires.
“Simone is someone who I think is so incredible, and she’s really come into her own. She has such a strong voice as well.
“My voice and athletes’ voices in general are so important and so powerful, and I think we’re seeing that.”
An opportunity to unify
Felix’s legacy isn’t the only one attached to her career, she also stands in the shadow of some of the greatest athletes in Team USA’s history including Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner and Jesse Owens.
She is the only female track and field athlete ever to win six Olympic gold medals and the only USA track and field athlete, male or female, to win 13 gold medals at the world championships.
By competing in her fifth Olympics this year and adding one more medal to her set of nine, she could tie Lewis’ record – or add two more to break it.
“Being anywhere in the sentence with Carl Lewis, that’s something I never would have even imagined,” she says. “To me, it’s all about just trying to make this fifth Olympic team, with the way that the year has been […] that would be such a victory.”
The absence of international spectators at Tokyo 2020 means Felix is unlikely to have her family in the stands. With scaled down stadium capacities and the removal of team welcome ceremonies at the Olympic Village, the Games will feel different this year.
“Obviously as a competitor, we would love to compete in front of fans. But at the same time, we understand the situation […] we’re ready to adapt and pivot,” she adds. “In all of this we’ve seen people experience such loss and it really makes me grateful for all that I have.
“I think it hopefully will be a time of healing and a time where we really unify.”