DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A little bit of rust was expected by Allyson Felix. After all, this was her first race in 13 months and as a mom.
Maybe not quite as expected was a little bit of anxiousness waiting to see if she would advance.
The six-time Olympic gold medalist breathed a sigh of relief as she made it out of the first-round in the 400 meters Thursday night at the U.S. championships. She had to see if her time would hold up.
“I knew I could run,” Felix said. “It was just to what standard would I be at. To me, it’s not up to my standards.”
Running in the first of four heats, Felix finished fourth as she lost steam near the end. The top three in a heat automatically advance to the semifinals, plus another four on time. Her time of 52.20 seconds held up.
“Tonight, I’m just grateful,” said the 33-year-old Felix, whose best time in the 400 is 49.26 seconds in 2015. “I’m grateful to be back racing, even though it wasn’t a great result for me.”
She views these championships as a starting point. Because Felix’s goal isn’t to be in tip-top form now but a year from now for the Tokyo Games.
“Now, I have time on my side,” said Felix, who will be trying to make her fifth Olympic team. “I can get where I need to go.”
Only 32 weeks into her pregnancy, Felix gave birth to daughter Camryn on Nov. 28 in an emergency Cesarean section after tests showed the baby’s heart rate had dropped to dangerous levels. Camryn weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces.
Her daughter is with her at nationals.
“Things that were once very easy for me are now pretty challenging,” Felix said. “I’m a regular mom. I’m at the hotel and I’m cleaning bottles and changing diapers and getting ready for races.”
Felix received a warm welcome from the crowd before the race — her first competition since June 16, 2018.
“It’s going to take some time to get back into it,” Felix said. “But I wanted to at least take this step and start racing again.”
Felix recently spoke out in The New York Times in an opinion piece about the need for greater maternity protection from sponsors.
She’s running unattached at the meet. She said her team has some sponsorship possibilities in the works.
For now, her focus is on training.
“I’ve got a ways to go,” she said. “But I’m happy to know I can still run.”
Other things to know from Day 1:
Molly Huddle captured her fifth straight 10,000-meter national title by holding off training partner Emily Sisson. In the men’s 10,000 race, Lopez Lomong won by more than 17 seconds.
Others winners included Sam Mattis (discus), Ariana Ince (javelin) — edging American record-holder Kara Winger — and Keturah Orji, who captured her fourth straight triple jump crown.
The finger point near the finish line between Justin Gatlin and training partner Isiah Young in the first round of the 100? Scripted.
Whether Gatlin competes anymore at the U.S. championships? Unscripted.
Gatlin remains on the fence on whether he will compete beyond his opening 100-meter run. He has an automatic bye to the world championships this fall in Doha as the defending 100 champion and can theoretically shut it down. He just needed to take one trip down the track at nationals.
The 37-year-old Gatlin had the second-fastest time at 10.16 seconds, beaten only by Young (10.14). Running in the same first-round heat, Gatlin pointed at Young and Young pointed right back at him.
“We went in with a strategy,” Gatlin said. “We wanted to go out there and just run all the way through 70, 80 (meters) and be able to look over at each other and basically say good job to each other.”
Now, Gatlin’s heading back to study his performance. That coupled with how his body feels will determine if he runs anymore.
“If there’s something I can work on, and it will be a positive step in the right direction for my race pattern, I’ll come back,” Gatlin said.
The 100 semifinal and final rounds are set for Friday, with three spots to worlds up for grabs. Other winners of their 100 heats included Michael Rodgers (10.24), Ronnie Baker (10.26) and Christian Coleman (10.29).
Gatlin captured the 2017 world title in London when he held off Coleman and Jamaican standout Usain Bolt. That was Bolt’s final major 100 race before stepping away.
In the women’s 100, Dezerea Bryant had the top time in the first round at 11.25 seconds, with English Gardner second at 11.28.
There was a touching moment before the first round of the women’s 1,500 race to honor the late Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald. Flowers were placed in lane one and a video tribute played on the big screen at Drake Stadium.
Grunewald died last month of cancer at 32. Grunewald ran the 1,500 meters at nationals in between rounds of cancer treatment in 2017. Her fight was inspiring and connected a running community.