Updated August 6, 2021 at 8:50 AM ET

TOKYO — At the Tokyo Olympics, more elite athletes than ever are speaking out about the need for more support for mothers. When the starting pistol went off at the Olympic Stadium for the women's 400-meter final on Friday, two mothers were on the starting line – Allyson Felix and Quanera Hayes.

Felix took bronze in the race, which brings her total up to 10 career Olympic medals. That's a record number of Olympic medals for a woman in track and field. It also brings her even with Carl Lewis' record Olympic medal count for a U.S. track and field athlete. Hayes placed seventh.

"It was really special," Felix said of running with Hayes in this race. "Obviously, you know, we're working to change industry standards. I think that's going to be a long battle."

Felix, 35, is competing in her fifth Olympics, and Hayes is making her Olympic debut in Tokyo. Both gave birth in 2018. And both have highlighted the joys of motherhood and the obstacles that female athletes face that men don't.

Felix very publicly broke with her sponsor, Nike, saying it wasn't supportive enough of its athletes who wanted to become mothers.

"If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward," she said in a 2019 op-ed in The New York Times. "It's one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men."

Felix has teamed up with her new sponsor, Athleta, to launch a $200,000 fund for athletes to support paying for child care.

After her race Friday, Felix said she was able to FaceTime with her daughter, Camryn.

"She kind of gets it now when I'm running, she's always like, 'Mama's at work, Mama's running, and she's kind of into it. She likes to cheer," Felix said.

Hayes has spoken about her journey back into competition after giving birth to her son. "He's my everything," Hayes told HBCUGameday after the Olympic trials. "I have so much pride and so much joy knowing that I have bounced back from giving birth to him and letting him, having him see me come out here and not give up and continue to fight for what God has blessed me to do."

She has said she's inspired by Felix. "I just told her that I was grateful for all she's done for mothers," Hayes told The Register-Guard in June. "How she fought for us and paved the way for me as an athlete."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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