Felix, one of the greatest American athletes of her generation, returned to track and field after 13 months away, running her first race since she gave birth to her daughter, Camryn. She ran once around Drake Stadium’s blue oval in 52.20 seconds. She bent at the waist and placed her hands on her knees. Felix placed fourth in the first heat, forcing her to wait to see whether she would advance as a time qualifier. She did.
“Tonight, I’m just grateful,” Felix said. “I’m grateful to be back racing. Even though it wasn’t a great result for me, it’s a starting point. My biggest goal is next year. I know that I’m capable. Now I have time on my side, and I can get where I need to go.”
Felix, 33, aims to make her fifth Olympics next summer in Tokyo. Thursday night was a step in a long road. On Nov. 28, 2018, Felix delivered Camryn at 32 weeks via an emergency C section owing to a severe case of preeclampsia.
She wasn’t sure whether she would be able to compete again until she returned to training, and even as she has come back, the physical toll remains. She experienced “tears, frustration and doubt,” she said. At times it felt as if the world were against her.
“Things that were once very easy for me are now pretty challenging,” Felix said.
As she worked her way back into shape, Felix used her platform in a way she never had before. In May, in a New York Times op-ed, she denounced Nike for not supporting her maternity. She said Nike refused to promise it would not punish her if she performed worse after her pregnancy and offered her a contract worth 70 percent less than her old deal.
“I wanted to set a new standard,” Felix wrote. “If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?”
Felix said she is running “unattached,” without a sponsor, and she ran in a black shirt without a logo. But she has talks “in the works” with a company. (During her post-race scrum with reporters, Felix wore Nike shoes.)
Felix will race again Friday night, but she will be at work before the semifinals start. She brought Camryn to Iowa, which means more washing bottles and changing diapers in the hotel room, another reminder of the balance between motherhood and her profession. “It’s hard,” Felix said. “It’s very hard. I’m kind of getting the hang of it more.”
Felix’s time Thursday night was almost three seconds slower than her personal best of 49.26 seconds, set at the 2015 world championships in Beijing. She felt “rusty,” she said, which she expected. Felix ran comfortably for 300 meters, putting herself in position to secure a semifinal spot by finishing in the top three. But in the final 100 meters, she appeared to tire and could not overtake Briyahna DesRosiers. She stayed on the track to watch the final three heats, but even after speaking with reporters, she didn’t realize she had made the semis.
But one of the best ever at crossing the finish line found victory in simply getting to the start line. On Thursday morning, she posted to Instragram a picture of herself standing in front of Camryn resting in the NICU. “I’m far from my best,” she wrote. “But I’m grateful.”
Huddle wins 10,000
Molly Huddle won her fifth consecutive national title in the women’s 10,000 meters final, holding off training partner Emily Sisson with a wicked finishing kick to finish in 31:58.47. . . .
The most impressive performance of the championships’ first day may have belonged to Lopez Lomong, who defended his 10,000 meters title with a startling showing. His rain-soaked 27:30.06 shattered his old personal best by more than 50 seconds and dusted second-place Shadrack Kipchirchir by nearly 17 seconds. . . .
Sam Mattis won the national title in men’s discus with a throw of 66.69 meters, sending the 25-year-old to his first world championships. Mattis won despite having recently recovered from a torn pectoral muscle.
“It’s been years of frustration at championship meets, just little things going wrong or not stepping up quite at the right time,” Mattis said. “It’s just awesome to finally make a team.”
Brian Williams finished second and also made the worlds.