RIO DE JANEIRO – Needing every tool at her disposal to sneak past Allyson Felix and into gold, the Bahamas' Shaunae Miller pulled out her final trick.
She had already sprinted, churning her way through the home stretch to beat Felix, the now seven-timeOlympic medalist. As runners, they were an even match; something had to give.
“I just tried to give all I had,” Felix said. “I didn’t have more to give.”
So Miller dove.
With the finish line of the women's 400 meters within a single stride, Miller decided to slide through the stripe while Felix remained upright, giving her the seven-hundredths of a second needed to earn her first Olympic medal.
“The only thing going through my mind was I have to get the gold medal,” Miller said. “When I was on the ground I didn’t know if I had won it yet until I heard my mom screaming. And when I heard her screaming, I had to have won the race.”
It was a painting of unorthodox against tradition: Felix on two feet and Miller falling to her stomach, using any asset in her corner to eke out a gold at the expense of the most decorated female track athlete in the USA’s history — now with one more medal than the great Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“It works. I mean, look, she won,” said the USA’s Phyllis Francis, who finished fifth. “It’s amazing.”
Whether it was needed in the first place is up for debate. What is unquestioned, however, is that Miller's dive provides one of the memorable moments at the track during these Rio Games, while also bringing to the forefront a finishing move all sprinters know but few use.
Francis has never dove through the stripe. “I’ll take a look into that, though,” she said. Nor has Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson, who claimed bronze.
And it’s not taught by track coaches — but nor do the same coaches prohibit the move, in the manner of baseball coaches who bemoan the headfirst slide into bases as too slow, not to mention hazardous.
Then again, a dive sent the USA’s Natasha Hastings into these Olympic Games: At the 400 finals at the U.S. team trials last month, Hastings dove through the stripe to finish third and clinch her spot in Rio.
Twitter was stunned after Shaunae Miller dove to win the 400 meter
In addition, the roles were reversed at the 2008 Beijing Games, when the USA’s David Neville leapt past the Bahamas’ Chris Brown to claim bronze in the men’s 400-meter final — beating Brown by .04 seconds, a moment recalled on Monday night by celebratory members of the country’s Olympic committee.
So was it intentional? Maybe the conditions played a factor; the track remained in wet and soggy condition after an early downpour led to a 30-minute delay in competition.
Or there was a plan of action: Miller could have retained the mental focus to remember what was at stake after more than 40 seconds at a full-out sprint — and then found one last burst of energy.
Not that she knows for sure.
“I don’t know kind of what happened,” Miller said. “My mind went blank. The only thing I was thinking was the gold medal and the next thing I was on the ground.”
Afterwards, Miller remained prone on the track, her lungs burning after completing one of the sport’s most demanding disciplines. There was another reminder of a race run: the pain of bare skin sliding across polyurethane.
But scars heal; gold medals last forever.
“I’m sure she won’t feel it for another couple days,” Hastings said. “You just do what you’ve got to do to get across the line sometimes.”