Shaunae Miller’s head-first dive at the finish line beats Allyson Felix
Mon., Aug. 15, 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO – It took a head-first dive by Shaunae Miller at the finish line to beat Allyson Felix, denying her a record fifth Olympic gold medal.
Miller, the 22-year-old from the Bahamas, stayed even with Felix for 398 meters, then sprawled, dove and crashed across the line to edge Felix by .07 seconds.
She’ll get the gold medal in the 400 meters. Maybe they should give her a cape, too.
This was supposed to be a stroll and something of a coronation for Felix, who was the defending world champion and had the best career time of the eight women in Monday night’s final. She was trying to become the first woman to win five track golds at the Olympics.
Halfway through the race, it was clear that was no sure thing.
Starting from Lane 7, Miller expanded the lag, instead of getting gobbled up. Felix slowly chipped away. They came down the last 100 meters and Felix drew even, maybe even got a step ahead.
Stride for stride they ran, until the last few steps. Felix, classically trained by Bobby Kersee, made a textbook lean into the finish line. Miller tried something else. The dive is something no coach would ever teach. Then again, amazing things happen with a gold medal on the line.
As Miller lay on her back, writhing in agony, Felix sat on the ground stone-faced. Ten seconds passed. Then 20.
The rules say the win is determined by which athlete has any part of her torso cross the line first. The photo finish showed the negative image of Miller’s sprawled out body, with her shoulder just barely over the line before Felix reached.
Finally, the result popped up. Miller won in 49.44 seconds.
What a finish. What a race.
And, yes, what a disappointment for Felix, whose year just didn’t turn out the way she planned it.
She was one of those rare athletes who had the cachet to get the Olympics to change the schedule. After winning the world championship at 400 meters last year, she put the 200-400 double in her sights for the Olympics. The schedule as it was originally written made it impossible – with the 200 heats scheduled for the same evening as the 400 final.
Felix asked, and she received: The 200 heats were moved to the morning to give America’s best female sprinter a chance for the two-fer.
But she never got to the starting line in the 200. She landed awkwardly on a medicine ball while doing core work in the gym during the spring. “I’d never seen my ankle that big before, and it happened immediately,” she said.
Suddenly, the quest for two golds was simply a struggle to make the Olympics. She did in the 400. But the 200, which requires more “speed work” running hard around the curve, never got where it needed to go. Felix came in fourth at trials, one spot out of the mix, and had to swallow that disappointment and get ready to make the 400 hers.
Miller had a different plan.
The flagbearer for her country in the opening ceremonies, Miller came into the games 5 for 5 in her races this season, including Diamond League meets in Shanghai, Eugene, Oregon, and London.
Now, she’s 6 for 6.
Men’s pole vault
The noise echoing around the Olympic stadium swung suddenly from boos and jeers to victorious cheers around midnight, when Thiago Braz da Silva delivered Brazil’s first track and field gold medal with unlikely win in the pole vault.
The 22-year-old Braz da Silva didn’t wilt despite the dominance of defending champion Renaud Lavillenie, producing an Olympic record vault of 19.78 feet on Monday for a victory to delight the host nation.
Braz da Silva had misses at earlier heights, while the world-record holder Lavillenie was clean through 19.6.
The Olympic record put him in gold-medal position, but Lavaillenie still had a chance to win.
Lavillenie raised the bar to 6.08 for one final attempt and, as he prepared, the crowd started booing him. The Frenchman gave a thumbs-down signal to the crowd, went up for the last attempt, but failed.
After some 3 1/2 hours, including a rain-delay, Braz da Silva was celebrating. The host nation, which had been counting on the female vaulter Fabiana Murer to win gold later in the Olympics, now has a new star.
And, like their famous soccer players, the full name doesn’t matter, the champion is known here as Braz.
Women’s 400 hurdles
The American teenager was talking as if her time in Rio was done – the competition was just too intimidating, the Olympic atmosphere was too overwhelming and she was bothered by a persistent cold.
That’s the thing about Sydney McLaughlin, even when she’s not at her best and maybe a bit overwhelmed, she still finds a way to get things done. The 17-year-old from Dunellen, New Jersey, cut it close Monday night, but made it through to the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles.
“It’s exciting to be here,” said McLaughlin, who finished in 56.32 seconds – the 20th fastest time, and just enough to advance. “But it’s also a little intimidating, because a lot of people have done this before and have more experience than me. I mean, just to be here, at this age, representing my country, it’s amazing.”
McLaughlin wasn’t exactly sure how to run this type of Olympic race – go out fast or save a burst to finish. So, she decided to play it safe. Midway through, she knew that wasn’t going to cut it and turned on the speed.
“It’s hard to bounce back from some sloppy hurdles in the beginning,” said McLaughlin, the youngest American track and field athlete to compete in the Summer Games since 1972, according to USA Track and Field. “You waste energy trying to fix your stride pattern. Overall, the strength wasn’t there.”
In fairness, she has been battling a cold.
“I went into the race with my expectations a little bit lower than should’ve been,” said McLaughlin, who turned 17 on Aug. 7. “It took me 200 meters to realize everyone is working for a spot here. It’s not just another race.”
It’s definitely not.
A little down after her performance – she didn’t earn one of the three automatic spots – she was almost resigned to having her experience in Rio draw to a close.
When all the heats had finished, there was a big sigh of relief.
“It’s so much to process in one race and try to overcome at one time,” said McLaughlin, who didn’t walk in the opening ceremony but plans to get involved in the closing ceremony. “I’m not really particularly happy with my performance. But whatever happens, happens.”
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