EUGENE, Ore. — Never mind that she got passed at the end of her last sprint around the track. Or ended up with a bronze medal instead of gold.
For 15 memorable seconds Friday night at the world championships, Allyson Felix was sprinting alone in the sunshine, cruising far ahead of the field down the backstretch. Her arms were pumping and knees were kicking high with that near-perfect form that can only belong to her.
She’s 36 now. So it was no huge shock that a runner 11 years her junior, Marileidy Paulino of the winning Dominican Republic team, eventually reeled her in. No big shame that the U.S., saving the rest of its vaunted star power for big races over the next nine days of this meet, finished third, also behind the Netherlands.
It still equaled Felix’s 19th medal at world championships, extending a record she already held. Adding it to the 11 she’s taken at the Olympics, she’ll end her career with an even 30 at her sport’s biggest events.
Much like the end of Felix’s career, her last big evening on the track was about more than the race. It was a celebration of a once-in-a-lifetime athlete who came onto the scene as a shy teenager and left as an outspoken advocate for women and moms both in and out of sports.
Google got into the act. A search of her name Friday night brought up all her credentials, overlaid by animation of her sprinting across the computer screen followed by the words “Olympian. Mother. Advocate.”
All part of a fitting finale for the mother of 3-year-old Cammy, who said she’s looking forward to being “normal,” focusing on her family, and not having to get up for workouts with her famed taskmaster of a coach, Bobby Kersee.
Felix was entered only in the mixed relay after failing to qualify for the worlds in an individual race. When her name was announced at the beginning, the two-thirds-full house at the first world championships to be held in the United States cheered as loudly as they had all night.
She paced and jumped around after the starting gun, waiting for her last lap.
American Elijah Godwin had a slim lead when he passed her the baton, and for the first 200 meters of her final lap around the track, Felix extended the margin and was running virtually alone in the sun-splashed backstretch. But she faded after she rounded her final turn and was caught by Paulino.
Vernon Norwood recaptured the lead on the third leg, but the Domincan’s Fiordaliza Cofil overtook American Kennedy Simon on the anchor, and then hurdler Femke Bol made a huge late charge to give The Netherlands the silver. The Dominican Republic won in 3 minutes, 9.82 seconds, with a margin of 0.08 seconds.
The U.S. finished in 3:10.16. The stat sheet said Felix ran her final 400 meters in 50.15 seconds. It’s nowhere near the 47.72-second split she ran in a gold-medal 4×400 at worlds in 2015 — still the fastest ever by an American woman — but that was hardly the point.
That she was out there at all seemed like a big enough accomplishment, given the road she climbed after an emergency C-section, eight weeks before her due date in 2019, left her and Cammy in the hospital, and left Allyson thinking more about making it out than ever running again.
Felix’s last medal capped off an opening day that also featured heats in the men’s 100.
American Fred Kerley, last year’s Olympic silver medalist, finished his race in 9.79 seconds — a blazing-fast time for a preliminary round that was only 0.03 off his season high and was 0.01 faster than Italian Marcel Jacobs’ victory last year in Tokyo.
All the other big names advanced: Jacobs, Marvin Bracy, Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse, 2011 world champion Yohan Blake and Christian Coleman, who is defending his world title after missing the Olympics because of a suspension related to missed doping tests.
Also advancing was Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala. The world’s seventh-ranked sprinter in 2022 arrived in Eugene only about three hours before race time after dealing with visa issues that have impacted dozens of athletes and coaches trying to make it to America.
One of the day’s few surprises came when defending long jump champ Tajay Gayle of Jamaica fouled three times and failed to get out of qualifying.
World record-holder Ryan Crouser and his biggest rival, defending world champion Joe Kovacs, each moved on in shot put.
The meet’s first medals came in the 20-kilometer race walk, where Kimberly Garcia won Peru’s first-ever medal at the worlds in a time of 1:26:28. Toshikazu Yamanishi of Japan successfully defended his men’s title in 1:19.07.
But it was the night’s last medals that everyone at Hayward Field will remember.
Felix smiled widely as World Athletics president Sebastian Coe hung the medal around her neck and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, on hand for the presentation, shook her hand.
Felix stood straight as the Dominican Republic’s national anthem played. Then, moments later, she exited through the ramp, leaving the big stage for the final time.