There was much chatter after Millers unconventional move in the womens 400m final, but its a legitimate tactic, even if might not be that effective
Allyson Felix woke up on Tuesday as the most decorated female Olympian in US track history. But she didnt get the gold she wanted in the 400m: the 30-year-old Felix was denied by Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas in one of the Olympics most memorable athletics finals.
The 22-year-old Miller, running from lane seven, got out quickly, ran superbly through 300m, but seemed to tie up over the final 100m. Felix, in lane four, was behind throughout, but gaining fast. Miller had the advantage as they approached the finish line, but it was too close to call. A few meters from the line, Miller toppled forward, lost her balance and went through the finish line horizontally.
The commentators werent immediately sure who had triumphed, but the result was soon confirmed: Miller won gold in a personal best time of 49.44sec; Felix had to settle for silver in 49.51. An absorbing race won in unconventional style.
It prompted much chatter, particularly on social media. Some viewers wondered whether Millers move was illegal, or at least unethical, but diving at the finish line is entirely within the rules. The IAAF, track and fields governing body, confirms, on page 170 of its competition rules: The athletes shall be placed in the order in which any part of their bodies (ie torso, as distinguished from the head, neck, arms, legs, hands or feet) reaches the vertical plane of the nearer edge of the finish line.
Felix, speaking on the Today show on Tuesday morning, admitted she was not too used to seeing her opponents dive at the end of the race. It happens every now and then, but its not too common, she said.
After the race, Felix was asked: did Millers lunge win her the race? Felix shook her head. I dont know, she said. I had to dig as deep as I could and put it all out there.
On reflection, however, it appeared to be less a savvy strategic move from the Bahamian than a desperate measure to try to recover from falling. With about five meters to go, Miller, who had given everything, seemed to overbalance and topple forward and dived to prevent a really bad crash to earth. That, at least, was Michael Johnsons interpretation.
After the race, Miller confirmed the lunge was not part of her plan. I dont know kind of what happened, she said. My mind went blank. The only thing I was thinking was the gold medal and the next thing I was on the ground. Ive never done it before. I have cuts and bruises, a few burns. It hurts.
Some onlookers seemed to suggest that Felix was hard done by, a legend of the track denied her rightful gold by an unsportsmanlike piece of scheming. But Lance Brauman, Millers coach, was quick to dispel the idea of a calculated move: She gave everything she had and her legs gave out at the line. It was not intentional.
And Miller might still have won had she stayed on her feet. Vox suggested if Miller had stayed upright, she would have lost but its difficult to know for certain: Miller led throughout, and though Felix was gaining fast, and would probably have won gold in a 405m race, Miller seemed to have the edge. Johnson, who knows a thing or two about 400m running, insisted that diving across the line is slower than running across, something that ESPN seemed to confirm when analyzing baseball runners diving or sliding into first base.
But who knows for sure?
Miller had been running quickly for some time. She won silver at the world championships in Beijing last year, behind Felix, and has shaved nearly two seconds off her personal best in two years. Monday nights time, on a wet track, was just outside the 49.26 PB that Felix set in Beijing last year. (Marita Kochs world record of 47.60, set in 1985, is a stunning piece one-lap sprinting of no one has got close to in a generation.)
And Millers dive is not without precedent. USAs David Neville dived for the line in the mens 400m final in Beijing 2008, denying a bronze medal to Chris Brown of the Bahamas. (Mondays USA-Bahamas reversal was not lost on some pundits.) Natasha Hastings, who finished fourth behind Miller, Felix and Jamicas Shericka Jackson in Mondays final, has also employed the dive before.
I did it myself twice this year, Hastings said. I dove [at the US Olympic trials] for my spot here. And I did it in indoor nationals as well. You do what youve got to do to get over the line.
After the race, the LA Times wrote: [Miller] might not have needed to dive, but it provided drama and ignited internet debates over whether it was sportsmanlike, no matter that its permitted. And maybe thats the point: it was a great race, it provided drama, and it got people talking about track. And for a sport beset by various crises, thats no bad thing.
Originally found athttp://www.theguardian.com/us