The Rio women’s 400m finals event was a hotly contested affair involving the much-anticipated showdown between the American Allyson Felix and the Bahamian Shaunae Miller. Miller took the title in a personal best time of 49.44 seconds ahead of Felix (49.51), with Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson (49.85) taking the bronze medal. However, it was the manner in which Miller won the title that had Felix’s fans up in arms and Miller’s fans in admiration. As Miller approached the finish line she dived across the line to claim the victory. Miller fell and laid on the track for several minutes before she gained her composure.
The internet and social media were all over this story, with some fans saying that Miller cheated when she dived across the line and that she should have been disqualified. Other fans called from a change in the rules that athletes should not be allowed to claim victory by diving across the finish-line.
However, Miller’s dive was perfectly legal based on the “Torso rule”. It doesn’t matter if your arms breaks the finish-line plane before your opponent, what matters is that your torso crosses the line first. Track athletes know that and that’s the reason why athletes are taught to lean or dip at the line to gain that advantage. The torso rule is specifically outline in the IAAF rulebook which states: "The athletes shall be placed in the order in which any part of their bodies (i.e. torso, as distinguished from the head, neck, arms, legs, hands or feet) reached the vertical plane of the nearer edge of the finish line" (Rule 164, IAAF Rules 2006-2007).
The “victory dive” was hotly debated because of what was at stake. A Felix victory would have more than solidify her legendary status with her winning her first individual gold medal in the 400m and her 2nd overall individual gold medal after winning the 200m gold at the London 2012 Olympics. She would have become the first female athlete to win individual Olympic gold in both the 200m and the 400m. But Felix’s legendary status remains intact as she ended the Rio Games with two gold medals in the relays to go with her silver medal. Since 2008, Felix has won nine Olympics medals (6 gold and 3 silver), and has established herself undoubtedly as one of the best female track athlete ever. So in essence, Miller’s dive may have taken the gold medal but did little to negate or minimize Felix’s accomplishments.
In all fairness, Miller is well-deserving of the gold medal as she had a remarkable 2016 season leading up to the Rio Olympics. The Bahamian was equally impressive in both the 200m and the 400m. She ran 22.14 seconds in the 200m to set the Bahamian national record and had a world-leading time of 49.55 seconds in the 400m, heading into the Rio Olympics. For track fans, Miller’s victory was not a complete surprise based on her performance during the 2016 season. Miller’s dive across the finish-line was very dramatic and impressive.
However, no matter which side of the debate you are on, you have to admit that the Rio women’s 400m final event was fiercely contested by two incredibly talented ladies.
Edited by Raymond Byfield.
Shaunae Miller picture (above) taken by O'Neil A, Reid at the 2015 adidas Grand Prix, New York