There is a lot that goes into making a hero. And greatness alone is not a precursor to such favor. Any sport, therefore, must be fortunate in who becomes their champions, as sports, at least the ones without judges, are the last of the pure meritocracies. In that light, athletics could not have been luckier in having the likes of Allyson Felix grace the world’s tracks for so long.
Ms Felix made her final appearance on the international stage at the Eugene ‘22 World Championships as a member of the bronze-medal winning 4 X 400m U. S. Mixed relay team. It marked her 19th WC medal, including a staggering 13 gold.
Last summer in Tokyo, Ms. Felix added a tenth and eleventh Olympic medal to her collection, earning the bronze medal in the 400-meter final, and gold in the 4X400m Relay.
With Ms. Felix, it hasn’t just been her performances over five Olympic and eight WC cycles that elevated her. You could not find a more gracious, humble, and appealing personality.
Perhaps there wasn’t enough verbal bombast for those who like their champions loud and abrasive, but overall, the competitive fire Ms. Felix displayed on the track and the poise she held off it made up for the lack of headline grabbing quotes.
Then, with her late-career stance on women’s issues in the marketplace, along with her comeback from a dangerous pregnancy, her new-found advocacy brought an entirely new set of fans while underlining her resilience, grit, and resolve.
But just like excellence doesn’t always lead to fondness, quantity doesn’t always trump quality.
Yes, Ms. Felix is now the “most decorated” track athlete in U. S. history with 30 international medals. And Carl Lewis, with 20 total Olympic and World Championship medals, never came across, or was embraced, as America’s sweetheart. In fact, it was often just the opposite. But when we get into the quantity versus quality discussion, it’s no contest.
Among Allyson Felix’s 11 Olympic medals, only one gold is for individual achievement, the 200m in Beijing 2012. Her other six golds all came via relays, including her sixth in the 4X400m Relay in Tokyo. She has also earned three individual silver medals and her bronze last summer in the Tokyo 400m.
So while Ms. Felix has been the most durable and decorated U. S. track athlete of all time, and one of the finest people to ever represent the USA internationally, one individual gold medal remains her Olympic tally.
In that regard, her rival Shantae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas won her second straight Olympic 400m gold in Tokyo to add to her gold in Rio. On both occasions, she beat Allyson.
So, as easy as it has been to root for Ms. Felix, who will forever hold the edge in charm, when we compare her medal haul with that of Carl Lewis, Carl dominates in quality.
Of King Carl’s ten Olympic medals, nine were gold, seven for individual achievement, famously four straight in the long jump (1984-‘96), two more in the 100 meters (1984 & ‘88) and another in the 200m in LA 1984. His lone silver came in the 200m in Seoul. His other two golds were earned as a member of 4 X 100m relay teams in 1984 LA & 1992 Barcelona. He also won 10 World Championships medals, including eight gold. But the first three WC ( Helsinki ’83, Rome ’87, and Tokyo ’91) mirrored the quadrennial Olympic schedule before moving to the biennials in Stuttgart 1993. Meaning Lewis missed two potential WCs in his prime in 1985 & ’89.
We are so caught up in recency bias (and perhaps decency bias) that we tend to over value the present while discounting the past.
There’s something of that quantity vs quality element from the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, too, with Carl on the quantity side this time.
In what was arguably the greatest long jump competition in history, Mike Powell defeated Carl Lewis, setting the still-standing 8.95m world record on his fifth round leap, topping Carl’s 8.91m wind-aided fourth rounder, as both men bettered the even more legendary 8.90m mark established by Bob Beamon in Mexico City 1968.
Mike Powell came away with the world record of 8.95m, while Lewis posted the greatest series in long jump history, three times 8.83m or better, with his other non-foul in the opening round going 8.68m. In that sense, Carl’s quantity got trumped by Powell’s quality.
There was only one jump in Powell’s series that topped any of Carl’s that day, or in the previous 10 years that Lewis had gone undefeated over 65 meets.
Gold medal, Mike Powell (USA)
7.85 – 8.54 – 8.29 – X – 8.95WR – X.
Silver medal, Carl Lewis (USA).
8.68 – X – 8.83w – 8.91w – 8.87 – 8.84.
Bronze medal, Larry Myricks (USA) = 8.42m
Allyson Felix will go down in history as one of the greatest competitors in athletics history. And who knows how long Mike Powell’s long jump world record will last considering what the spike designers may have up their computer sleeves?
One thing Carl Lewis was never be accused of was false modesty. He knew he was great, and didn’t mind telling you. The only thing that surprised him was that his greatness didn’t pay off as much as he thought it would.
But shake it up, or shake it down, I am still riding Carl to the U.S. T&F GOAT farm.
On 2 July 2022, King Carl turned 61. Happy belated birthday, Carl. Thanks for the memories, Allyson. Anxious to see what’s ahead.
4 thoughts on “IS IT ALLYSON OR IS IT CARL?”
They seem to come and go so fast.
I mostly see these athletes at the Olympics, so that is part of it.
Apollo Anton Ono got me into speed skating, especially short track. He was amazing and I wish he were still out there. But each event I watch is a thriller.
We do always focus on “the new kid in town” as the songs goes. And only the people who are dedicated fans remember the champs from years gone by.
I appreciate your article.
With Carl it just looked too easy. He put in the work but like Tom Brady folks never embraced him. The anthem thing didn’t help either. Got to meet him, his sister and his dad. All class people. Society embraces its superstars differently between males and females differently.
Lewis also had World Champs every 4 years, while Felix had the benefit of a 2 year cycle. Many more opportunities to medal.
Have to believe that Lewis in ‘85 might have had another 3 or 4 medals, likely 2 or 3 in ‘89 as well.
And Lewis made the Olympic team in 1980 in the LJ and 4 x 1 – a chance at two more medals!
Fewer opportunities in what might have been WC in ’85 & ‘89, especially.