RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – For beating Allyson Felix, Shaunae Miller gets a gold medal. Maybe they should give her a cape, too.
It took a head-first dive, Superwoman-style, for Miller to spring an Olympic upset Monday over America’s top female sprinter in the 400 meters and deny her a record fifth gold medal.
Miller, a 22-year-old from the Bahamas, took an early lead, then held off Felix’s charge along the straightaway. Neck-and-neck with two steps to go, Miller sprawled and tumbled across the line to win by .07 seconds.
Now, instead of a coronation for Felix, it’s a celebration for Miller, who finished second to the American at last year’s world championships. Her dive will go down as one of the most dramatic images we’ve seen at these, or any, Olympics.
Not that she planned it that way.
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“I don’t know what happened. My mind just went blank,” Miller said. “The only thing I was thinking (about) was the gold medal, and the next thing I know, I was on the ground.”
And yet, she didn’t even get the evening’s biggest roars. Those were reserved for pole vaulter Thiago Braz da Silva, who gave Brazil its first medal in track and field by setting an Olympic record (6.03 meters) to upset world-record holder and defending champion Renaud Lavillenie of France.
“I thought I was in a movie. … My first urge was to go run and hug Thiago so much,” said bronze medalist Sam Kendricks of the United States. “But I knew that it was his moment and he needed to be on camera and experience it for himself.”
Lavilleine put the bar at 6.08 meters for his last attempt, and as he was getting ready to jump, the crowd booed. He responded with a thumbs-down sign. After the loss, he complained about the spectators taking sides.
In the 800 meters, David Rudisha of Kenya won a second straight gold medal, and Clayton Murphy picked up bronze to give the United States its first medal in that event since 1992.
But The Dive is what everyone will be talking about.
As Miller, who formerly competed for University of Georgia, lay on her back, gasping for breath and maybe even stunned herself at what she’d done, Felix sat on the ground stone-faced. Ten seconds passed. Then 20.
The winner’s first clue came from the stands, not the scoreboard, which showed Miller winning in 49.44 seconds, ahead of Felix and bronze medalist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica.
A familiar voice cut through the air.
“I heard my mom screaming,” Miller said. “When I heard her screaming, I was like, ‘OK, I had to have won the race.'”
Starting from Lane 7, Miller expanded the lag, instead of getting gobbled up the way most women do when Felix is on the track.
Stride for stride they ran down the last 100 meters, until the last few steps. Felix, classically trained by Bobby Kersee, made a textbook lean into the finish line. Miller tried something else. Something no coach would ever teach.
“She gave everything she had and her legs gave out at the line,” said Miller’s coach, Lance Brauman, who also works with 100-meter silver medalist Tori Bowie of the U.S. “Was not intentional.”
Then again, amazing things happen with a gold medal at stake.
While Miller jumped with her arms flailing forward, the rules say the win is determined by which athlete has any part of her torso cross the line first. The photo finish showed Miller’s shoulder barely beat Felix to the line.
“I don’t think I ever quite had a year this tough,” Felix said, as her eyes welled with tears.
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: The 200 heats were 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 because an injury derailed her training and she came up short at Olympic trials.
The 400 was her only chance for individual gold. Instead, she got silver to go with the pair she won in 2004 and 2008 in the 200.
Even so, Felix became the most decorated U.S. female track athlete, with seven overall medals.
But this was Miller’s night.
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 and London.
Now she’s 6 for 6.
A wild finish to a crazy night.
It began with a downpour that stopped action in all the events and put the DJ to work, playing “Singing In The Rain,” ”Umbrella,” and “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” among other fare, while the fans waited out the delay.
Those who stayed got their money’s worth.
Miller ended up with a few scrapes and bruises.
“My body is kind of numb,” she said. “It’s all just burning right now.”
The pain will go away. That gold is hers forever.