DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - A humble Allyson Felix returned to racing for the first time in 13 months on Thursday and made the semi-finals of the 400 metres on a time qualifier at the U.S. national championships.
The 33-year-old multiple Olympic and world champion is on the comeback trail after giving birth to daughter Camryn in November through an emergency caesarean section, 32 weeks into her pregnancy
“It was rusty, but kind of expected since I haven’t raced in a long time,” Felix said after clocking 52.20 seconds in her first run at the nationals, which are doubling this year as world championship trials.
Her time, almost three seconds slower than her personal best in 2015, was only good enough for fourth in her heat and she needed to wait for other races to confirm her qualification.
“It was very humbling,” she added. “I’m just happy to be running because I didn’t know if that was going to be the case.
“Things that were once very easy for me are now pretty challenging. And I’m a regular mom. I’m in the hotel cleaning bottles, changing diapers and getting ready for races.”
The 2012 Olympic 200 metres champion looked strong through three quarters of the race but tired coming home.
“It’s a starting point for next year,” said Felix, who hopes to run in her fifth Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
“Now I have time. I know I can get where I need to go.”
Heats dominated much of the opening day of the four-day trials that will determine the American team for September’s world championships in Doha.
World champion Justin Gatlin finished second to training partner Isiah Young in their 100 metres heat, while 2017 world silver medallist Christian Coleman won his.
Gatlin, 37, was clearly enjoying the moment and he and Young pointed to each other in celebration as they approached the line.
“We just wanted to go out there and just run through 70 or 80 metres, then look over at each other and basically say good job,” Gatlin said.
Young ran 10.14 seconds, the fastest time of the day, with Gatlin crossing the line in 10.16, second fastest.
Gatlin, who has a bye to the world championships, left the track undecided whether he would run in Friday’s semi-finals but later told Reuters he would compete.
He needed to run only one round to collect his bye.
Coleman, who is seeking a 100-200 metres double, won his race in 10.29, while Mike Rodgers (10.24) and Ronnie Baker (10.26) were also heat winners.
Dezerea Bryant was fastest in the women’s 100 heats in 11.25 seconds. Collegiate champion Sha’Carri Richardson, who has run 10.75 this year, was seventh fastest at 11.41.
Michael Norman, favourite for the world championship 400 metres, won his heat in 44.81 seconds but collegian Trevor Stewart went faster in 44.76.
Olympian Lopez Lomong, who was born in South Sudan, won the men’s 10,000 metres final in a personal best 27 minutes, 30.06 seconds.
He will be joined on the American team by Kenyan-born Shadrack Kipchirchir (27:47.71) and Leonard Korir (28:01.43).
U.S. record holder Molly Huddle won the women’s race in 31:58.47 with Emily Sisson (32:02.19) also qualifying for Doha.
Officials paid tribute to the late Gabe Grunewald before the women’s 1,500 metres preliminaries, placing a bouquet of flowers on the track in honour of the former U.S. indoor 3,000 metres champion.
Grunewald, 32, died of cancer in June. She delayed a round of treatment to run in the 2017 U.S. championships.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Des Moines, Iowa, editing by Nick Mulvenney