Allyson Felix comes out of retirement for 4×400 relay race

Allyson Felix was content to be retired. Days after winning her record-breaking 19th IAAF World Championships medal, she was back in Los Angeles treating herself to what she called a cheat meal: hot wings and a root beer float at the Hot Wings Cafe.

She had reason to celebrate. For two decades, she has been one of the sport’s consummate performers. Her 11 Olympic medals make her the most decorated US track and field athlete in history. Her bronze medal as part of a 4x400m mixed relay team on July 15 matched a record she had set with eight medals at world championships over a 17-year period – another record.

It was a fitting place to say goodbye to an athlete who had always wanted to compete in a global championship in the United States, and afterward she had talked about being a fighter and verbally sidestepped her career.

A few days later, legendary sprint coach Bobby Kersee called to interrupt Felix’s favorite wing while he was eating. Could she be available for a stage on the US women’s 4×400 team in Saturday’s preliminary rounds?

“Of course I was ready,” she said, adding, “I wasn’t planning on being back here for the rest of the meeting — but things are happening.”

Allyson Felix receives the baton from USA teammate Talitha Diggs during a heat in the women's 4x400m relay.

Allyson Felix receives the baton from USA teammate Talitha Diggs during a heat in the women’s 4x400m relay. Felix’s best time of 50.61 seconds was the American’s best.

(David J Phillip / Associated Press)

Felix finished a few workouts assigned by Kersee, got on a plane and put her retirement on hold to be a “team player,” she said. She also put herself in a position to extend her record when the USA, who set the fastest qualifying time of 3m23.38s, picked up medals as expected. Felix was asked to only run in the qualifying lap, not Sunday’s final – and if her 50.61-second second lap was really her last race, then she walked out in a manner befitting a career fit for her speed and perseverance is known.

Of the 31 women who started in the heat of the United States – the Netherlands were disqualified after three stages – only two set a faster split time than 36-year-old Felix.

“You go back to routine,” she said. “Bobby gave me some workouts at home and you just get back into it. It had only been a few days.”

Felix accepted her delivery from Talitha Diggs to the cheers at Hayward Field in recognition of her unexpected return.

“It was definitely a little unexpected, but since she was in the relay pool it wasn’t too much of a shock, but since she had retired and she was coming back, I was like, oh, this is going to be cool,” Diggs said. “Just giving her her final season change is pretty awesome.”

On the back straight, Felix had built up a sizeable lead and handed Kaylin Whitney over a second ahead of Great Britain.

“It literally comes full circle, you just get into the short sprints and adore them,” Whitney said. “Moving up to this event was just amazing. To be able to walk alongside her and these other great ladies is a privilege.”

Felix will watch Sunday’s finale in Eugene before returning to Los Angeles where her retirement begins again. The advocacy that defined the final years of her career, when she publicized the ways shoe sponsors would cut athlete salaries during pregnancy and pushed for greater maternal representation, will be a full-time role.

She’ll finish the Hot Wings meal now, she said. Allyson Felix comes out of retirement for 4×400 relay race

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