In a story fit for Hollywood, five-time Olympian Allyson Felix concluded her illustrious Olympic career Saturday in Tokyo by propelling a dream-team United States women's 4x400m relay squad to its seventh straight gold, claiming her 11th medal to surpass Carl Lewis as the most decorated U.S. Olympic track and field athlete of all time.
The 35-year-old mother made her Games debut in Athens at age 18, capturing a silver medal in the 200m. At her next Olympic appearance in Beijing, the Los Angeles native earned her first gold medal, repeating her silver in the 200m before running the second leg on Team USA's title-winning 4x400m relay.
Thirteen years later, in a finale of the ages, she wins her seventh gold in the same event she won her first – running the same leg – alongside two of the sport's youngest superstars.
Sydney McLaughlin, 400m hurdles gold medalist and world record-holder, led off with a 50.21-second leg in lane seven to give the U.S. an early lead. Felix, leg two, broke to the inside and held the gap in 49.38, passing off to 400m hurdles silver medalist and reigning world champion Dalilah Muhammad, who shot off like a rocket to close in 48.94. Athing Mu, 800m gold medalist and 400m collegiate record-holder, anchored the quartet home for gold, splitting a blistering 48.32.
The group finished in 3:16.85, No. 5 all-time and the fastest clocking in the event since 1993 – a fraction off that year's world title-winning American team of Gwen Torrence, Maicel Malone, Natasha Kaiser-Brown and Jearl Miles. The 1988 Seoul Games silver medalist squad anchored by Florence Griffith-Joyner remains the top U.S. time in history.
Team USA’s prelim squad – Kaylin Whitney, Wadeline Jonathas, Kendall Ellis and Lynna Irby – clocked 3:20.86 out of heat two to advance the U.S. to the final as the top seed.
The U.S. women have now won seven straight golds in the event, dating back to the 1996 Atlanta Games.
McLaughlin and Muhammad were part of USA’s title-winning final team at 2019 World Championships, running the second and third legs. Felix clocked a 49.8 second leg in the prelims, and the title gave her 13 golds and 18 total medals at the world championships.
Felix won a bronze medal Friday in her final individual Olympic race, coming from behind in the open 400m to finish in 49.46 and clinch her 10th medal, matching Lewis' total and breaking a tie with Jamaican Merlene Ottey for most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history.
Lewis won seven individual gold medals – four straight in the long jump, two in the 100m and one in the 200m – and two relay golds, with a gap due to a 1988 baton drop by others in the prelims. His only non-gold of the 10 was a silver in the 200m, losing to teammate Joe DeLoach. Ottey won nine medals – three silvers and six bronzes.
Felix became the most decorated U.S. woman in Olympic track and field history in Rio, earning a seventh medal with silver in the 400m, then her eighth and ninth with golds in the relays. The two titles, her fifth and sixth, gave her the most by a woman in Olympic track and field history.
Since Rio, Felix gave birth to daughter Camryn in November 2018 via emergency C-section. She returned to the track in mid-2019 and surpassed Usain Bolt for most career world titles at the world championships. She also became a vocal advocate for issues including contract protections for female athletes and racial disparities in maternal health care.
After her bronze Friday, Felix offered a message to her 32-month-old daughter:
"Tonight, the lesson that I want her to know is that no matter what it feels is stacked against you, you go out with character and integrity, you give your all, and that's all anybody else can ask of you, and you're proud with that," she said in a video call from Tokyo. "I hope that, years down the way, that she understands that."