By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
RIO de Janeiro, Brazil — With the bruises and bumps to show, Bahamian Shaunae Miller said the dive across the finish line at the Olympic Stadium was worth the gold she will receive for the Bahamian people.
Miller, 22, emerged as the 2016 Olympic Games women’s 400 metre champion, clocking a personal best of 49.44 seconds to hold off a late surge by American Allyson Felix in the epic rematch between the two gladiators on the world’s biggest stage last night.
Felix was hoping for her second straight major victory over Miller but it was not meant to be.
In similar fashion to last year when Felix pulled away and snatched the gold at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China, Miller duplicated the feat, turning the tables on Felix, who didn’t have enough real estate and had to settle for the silver in a season’s best of 49.51.
And in a rematch of last year’s final, Jamaican Shericka Jackson picked up another bronze in 49.85. The only difference was the two medals switched places at the top and Miller used her 6-foot, 1-inch frame to return the favour to Felix.
“Before we started the race, the last thing my coaches said was just give me your all and we will be satisfied with that,” said Miller, who had lost out again to Felix in a semi-final showdown the night before as the American came from behind and pulled away for the win.
“Before I went into the blocks, I said ‘God, I’m leaving this in your hands, I’m going to execute my race and however I finish, I know that God is going to help me'. He did. I know everybody is talking about the dive or the fall. But I don’t know what happened. My mind just went blank and the next thing I know I was on the ground.”
It was the first final for athletics at these games as Miller became just the second Bahamian to achieve the Olympic feat, joining national record holder Tonique Williams-Darling, who set the stage in Athens, Greece, when she ascended the podium. Williams then won the gold again at the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
During the race, Miller got out to a comfortable lead in lane seven. But on the back stretch, she was challenged by American Natasha Hastings in four, who pulled up beside her. But she shook that off going through the final curve.
Off the bend, Miller was again in total control of the race. This time, Felix tried to reel her in. She managed to close the gap at the end, but Miller had one surprise for her. She didn’t run through the line or try to nip her. Instead, she must have gotten some pointers from three-time Olympic swimmer Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace before she left on Sunday, as she dove across the line.
“I saw Allyson the last 20 metres of the race and then my mind just blanked after that,” Miller stressed. “The only thing I was thinking about was the gold medal. I was on the ground and I heard my mother (Maybelene Miller, who was near the finish line) screeching, so I knew I must have gotten the gold.
“But I’m just so thankful right now.”
That put the Bahamas in a five-way tie for 45th place on the medal standings with Fiji, Kosovo, Puerto Rico and Sinapore as the United States continues to control the leaderboard.
While she will waits for tonight to hear the national anthem played and the Bahamian flag raised during the medal presentation, Miller said she’s going to wait until her fiancé Maicel Uibo from Estonia is done competing in the men’s decathlon before the celebrations begin.
She will be sharing the moment with her parents, including Shaun Miller, who is an assistant coach on the team, and Uibo’s mother, who is also here, before she looks towards coming home for whatever is planned for her to share the experience with the Bahamian people.
In the meantime, Miller said she’s just going to enjoy being called an “Olympic champion".
It’s her first global medal since silver in the World Championship last year after claiming the bronze from the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot in 2014.
The back-to-back 2010 IAAF World Junior Championship and 2011 IAAF World Youth Championship champion recovered from her disappointment four years ago when she wasn’t able to complete in the preliminaries of the women’s 400m in her Olympic debut, coming off the first turn with a slight hamstring injury.
Monday night, there was nothing that was going to stop her, not even Felix, who stunned her in the semi-final the day before. The night belonged to Shaunae Miller, even if she had to add a little of another sport. She will recover from the cuts and bruises as Olympic champion.
The only thing that Miller didn’t do was break Williams’ Bahamian national record of 49.07 that she established on September 12, 2004 in Berlin, Germany. She said that she will take on that feat next year as she pursues her first medal at the IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.