Seven-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix remembers standing on Dean Cromwell Field when she was just a teenager, watching her older brother Wes as he sprinted circles around the burnt red track.
And as she herself started training on the USC campus after being invited to run at the Trojan Invitational, Felix also remembers falling down on that same track, collapsing into her brother Wes’ arms as she crossed the finish line during an 800-meter final – a distance that she, a sprinter, wasn’t used to running.
That was nearly 20 years ago. Now, Felix stands tall before the field, speaking to a crowd of several hundred people at the unveiling of the newly renamed Allyson Felix Field. The ceremony was marked by speeches, a musical performance by the Trojan Marching Band and a ceremonial unveiling of the new field name on Monday morning.
Taking the stage, Felix remarked that having the field renamed on her behalf was a “full circle moment,” recalling the challenge she once associated with the track.
“I crossed the finish line, and there was Wes,” she said. “He ended up having to hold me up. Every time I walk onto this track, on this field, that moment always comes to my mind. I’m grateful to be past that. That was at the beginning of my journey. And to be here today, I never would have imagined.”
“It honestly means the world to me. This is so much more than I could have ever dreamt of,” Felix added.
Other speakers at the event included university president Carol L. Folt, who highlighted Felix’s tremendous achievements both on and off the track.
She emphasized the tenacity behind Felix’s hefty career, including the runner’s 11 Olympic medals and 20 World Championship medals.
“You can pick any one of those medals,” Folt said, “and I bet there is a story behind it of triumph, grit, pain and grace.”
Meanwhile, USC athletic director Mike Bohn added that renaming the field helped not only Felix herself, but other Trojans go the distance.
“The naming of this field is not just to honor Allyson, but to inspire Trojans to achieve beyond the ordinary, to be a champion on and off the field, to stand for what is right with confidence and grace and so much more,” Bohn said.
As a member of the Trojan family, Felix graduated from the USC Rossier School of Education in 2008 with a degree in elementary education. While she followed in her brother’s footsteps — who sprinted for the school from 2002-2005 — and attended USC for her education, it’s clear that Felix ran a path of her own.
Felix, a homegrown Angeleno, was already a professional athlete by the time she stepped foot on USC’s campus. Making her Olympic debut at just 18 years old in 2004 and solidifying her as the youngest athlete on the U.S. track and field team at the time, she took home her first medal when she secured silver in the 200-meter dash in Athens, Greece.
After an impressive Olympic career, which includes seven Olympic gold medals — the highest of any female track and field athlete — Felix retired in 2022 following her final World Championship race. The year not only marked her retirement, but also when she was awarded with an honorary doctorate from USC following her commencement address speech to the class of 2022.
With such a history behind her, Felix stood with her back towards the field she had once walked past time and time again at USC, speaking on the impact of legacy.
“There is a quote that I love by Beverly Sills, and it says: ‘Legacy can be defined as planting trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.’ When I think about that quote, it’s really about leaving something behind that other generations can benefit from,” Felix said.
According to Rae-Anne Serville, a junior health and human sciences major and 400-meter dash athlete, Felix is a role model of balance and composure for other young female athletes.
“She sets an example for athletes’ potential to also manage common life in the midst of a successful athletic career, and she boosts our confidence in dealing with life after school due to her thriving business endeavors,” Serville said at the event, referring to Felix’s successful footwear company, Saysh. “She also spreads a message of empowerment and her fights for women’s rights, not only within the sport of track and field, but in all instances.”
Meanwhile, President Folt reinforced that the field represents a space for all students, varsity athlete or not. It acts as a recreational space for active Trojans, students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and the famed Trojan Marching Band. “Allyson Felix Field is a place of joy,” she said.
The field was previously named after Dean Cromwell, an anti-Semitic track and field coach who played a role in the removal of two Jewish athletes from the U.S. relay team during the 1936 Olympics, which were held in Nazi Germany. Cromwell, who served as USC’s track and field coach for nearly 40 years, allegedly called Black athletes “primitive,” according to an article by the L.A. Times.
Julie Rousseau, the USC associate athletic director for diversity, equity, and inclusion spoke to Annenberg Media about the importance of the field’s namesake.
“When we see a woman who has a space on campus that’s being recognized, I think it also helps our men see that women are doing great things too, and that we can celebrate greatness regardless of gender,” Rousseau said. “When people walk into this space, they will remember that they’re walking into a space of greatness.”
As members of the Trojan Marching Band lined into place and touted their victorious trumpets, gold and red streamers shot into the sky. The tarp covering the newly renovated entrance sign fell to the concrete, revealing bold, red lettering reading, “Allyson Felix Field.” Felix looked at the sign, smiling. While she has already run her race, she now passes the baton to the next generation of Trojan runners.
“I hope that student athletes come to this field at the beginning of their journey, and they experience something like I did coming, getting a foundation, being prepared to face the world. I know that there will be greatness and excellence daily here. I just feel so proud to be a tiny, tiny part of that.”