Skip to main content

SportsEngine Spotlight: Allyson Felix

To celebrate the superstars many young athletes look up to, SportsEngine is shining the spotlight on an individual and their journey, including in the formative years that helped propel that person to greatness. We are shining the spotlight on Allyson Felix, a seven-time Olympic gold medal champion sprinter for the United States. Here are five things you need to know about the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history.

Allyson Felix asserted her athletic potential early.

Born in Los Angeles on November 18, 1985, Allyson's father was an ordained minister, and her mother was an elementary school teacher. Her first sport was basketball, and she was nicknamed "Chicken Legs" for her slight build. Following in the footsteps of her older brother, Wes, she went out for the track team as a high school freshman, and just ten weeks later, she finished seventh in the 200-meter dash at the state meet. Eventually, she would win five state titles and was Track and Field News' national girls’ "High School Athlete of the Year" in 2003. As a high school senior, Allyson finished second in the 200 at the U.S. Indoor Track & Field Championships, then made history in Mexico City, finishing the 200-meter race in 22.11 seconds, a world record time for an under-20 sprinter.

Allyson had a remarkable start to her professional career.

There was a lot more that happened in 2003, as Allyson opted not to compete in college and turned pro, signing a contract with Adidas. However, she enrolled as a student at the University of Southern California, eventually earning a degree in elementary education in 2008. But her international breakout performance was at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where she won a silver medal in the 200-meter race behind Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown. She started to train under Bob Kersee, who was married to Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a two-time Olympic heptathlon champion who Sports Illustrated for Women named the greatest female athlete of all time. In 2005, Allyson became the youngest world champion ever in the 200 meters, shining at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships. In fact, in World Athletics Championships, Allyson is the most decorated athlete ever, with 20 career medals.

She was known for her work ethic, something she was proud of.

Though she had a brilliant start to her career, Allyson worked very hard, something that her coach demanded. "Everyone sees the glory moments," she told, "but they don't see what happens behind the scenes.” She reportedly spent three hours each day on the track with Kersee and another two hours in the weight room with her strength coach. She was a big proponent of plyometrics, exercises that utilize the speed and force of different movements.

Allyson had plenty of challenges throughout her career.

The competition was fierce in the 200-meter, and Allyson edged Jamaican rival Veronica Campbell-Brown at the 2007 Osaka World Championships, surging down the stretch to run a sub-22-second 200. But Campbell-Brown claimed the coveted gold medal in the 200 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just ahead of Allyson, though both ran under 22 seconds. But Allyson had a brilliant leg in the 4 x 400-meter relay, spurring Team UA to a gold medal. At the 2012 London Olympics, she competed in the 100, 200, 4 x 100, and 4 x 400 races. She placed fifth in the 100 but earned gold in the other races, including her first individual gold in the 200. She became the first American woman to win three gold Olympic medals in track and field since Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988. Remarkably, Allyson also competed and medaled at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Allyson had plenty of challenges throughout her career.

Allyson took a break in 2018 while she was pregnant. But she also faced severe complications, which inspired her to broadly share her experiences and raise awareness related to Black maternal mortality crises, including with the United States House Committee on Ways and Means. She also rallied attention and support for female athletes and paid equity, especially during pregnancy. Speaking up, though, was "outside of my comfort zone," she told Sports Illustrated. "I’m a person who is shy by nature, and I don’t like to rock the boat. So it was really, really difficult to be able to find that place to come forward and to share what had been going on." Yet inspired by her daughter Camryn, Allyson has been more vocal in advocating for others and leveraging her influence. Officially retired, she is working to build her apparel brand, Saysh, and she's joining boards and expanding her influence with an eye toward the next generations.

Sports in this article

Track & Field

Tags in this article

Parent SportsEngine