Quanera Hayes blitzed to a PB of 49.72 when winning the US 400m title in Sacramento earlier this year. Here the world 4x400m champion talks about the thrill she received first racing her idol Allyson Felix, the six-time Olympic gold medallist.
“I’ve looked up to Allyson throughout my college career, so to be given the chance to run against her first in the semifinals at the 2015 US National Championships in Eugene was amazing. I was so nervous to be running alongside one of the greatest female athletes ever. Yet that race gave me the belief that one day I can maybe be like her. I had never really dreamed that it would ever happen.
“I always loved the way she looked so poised and the way she carried herself during interviews. I always enjoyed watching her run and her many successes
“I recall hearing interviews with Allyson when she said people used to call her ‘chicken legs’ because her legs were so long and skinny. My legs too were long and people called me ‘daddy longlegs’. But I thought, ‘well, if Allyson is okay with her nickname then I am too’.
“In 2015 I started to put the hard work in training and I started to believe in myself. I guess it was a case of now or never. Then in the semifinals at the US Championships I finally got to race her. Allyson actually edged me out in the race (Felix ran 50.62 to win and Hayes placed third in a PB of 50.84, one place behind Phyllis Francis) but I made it through to the final.
“That race my dad took a picture from the internet of Allyson and me running down the home straight which we later had blown up in size. That picture is now at my grandparents’ house in my home town of Dillon, South Carolina and it has pride of place on the back of my grandad’s reclining chair.
“Looking back, it was just amazing to run against Allyson and to be in the mix with her (Hayes went on to defeat Felix in the first-round heat at the 2016 US Championships). It was awesome.
“That moment meant a lot to me because up until that point I had flown under the radar while a college student. But now I was running with the best. It gave me the belief that I could really perform to a high level and it gave the confidence to go for it.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF