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Allyson Felix, who overcame life-threatening pregnancy, qualifies for 5th Olympics

"I thought about us fighting in the NICU, fighting for my life, fighting to get on this track," Felix said after qualifying.
/ Source: TODAY

Allyson Felix's legacy as one of the greatest Olympic athletes in history is already secure, but qualifying for next month's Tokyo Games on Sunday has a special meaning to the track superstar.

Felix, 35, punched her ticket to her fifth Olympics, and her first since surviving a life-threatening condition to become a first-time mother. In 2018, she underwent an emergency C-section at 32 weeks after being diagnosed with a severe case of preeclampsia.

Her 2-year-old daughter Camryn, who weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces at birth and spent her first few weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, was there to cheer for her mom in person on Sunday at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field.

"It has been a fight to get here, and one thing I know how to do is fight, so I just wanted to do that all the way home," Felix said on the NBC broadcast after the race. "Today I thought about all the things. I thought about us fighting in the NICU, fighting for my life, fighting to get on this track.”

Allyson Felix celebrated with her daughter Camryn after her second-place finish in the women's 400-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Sunday in Oregon. Ashley Landis / AP

Felix had already qualified to go to Tokyo as a member of the relay team just by virtue of reaching the 400-meter final in the trials, but she guaranteed a place as an individual competitor in the 400 when she finished second in 50.02 seconds behind winner Quanera Hayes to earn a standing ovation.

The six-time gold medalist roared past two competitors in a furious finish to grab second place. Her daughter, whom she affectionately calls Cammy, then came out on the track to celebrate with her.

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"I just wanted to really show her, no matter what, that you do things with character, integrity and you don’t give up," Felix said on the broadcast. "No matter the outcome, I wanted to stay consistent with that. Having her as motivation these past few years has just given me a whole new drive.”

Felix's pregnancy experience also has led her to be an advocate for working moms and Black women, the latter of whom are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

“I’m an athlete. I take great care of my body and was in great health. I had a birthing plan. I was at one of the best hospitals in the country. There was no way anything could go wrong, right?” she told TODAY Parents last year. “But my eyes were completely opened to the fact that no one is immune from this reality and that Black women face significantly higher risks — ones I wasn’t really aware of and looking for.”

She also wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 2019 saying her sponsor at the time, Nike, told her it would be paying her 70% less than she earned before she became a mom despite her accomplishments. The article prompted Nike to announce a new maternity policy that guaranteed an athlete’s pay and bonuses for 18 months surrounding pregnancy. Felix has since switched to Athleta as a sponsor.

As far as on the track, the nine-time Olympic medalist is now looking to enter some rarefied air. If she wins two medals in Tokyo, she will pass the legendary Carl Lewis as the most decorated U.S. track and field Olympian of all time.

Felix, who will be appearing on the 3rd hour of TODAY on Wednesday, also plans to race in the 200-meter Olympic trials on Thursday.

If she qualifies in the 200, she could potentially run in four events in Tokyo between relays and individual races. If she earned a medal in all four, she would pass Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi, who competed in the 1920s, for the most medals by any track and field athlete in the history of the Olympics.