Doing her finest impression of the springboard experts performing at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre here at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Shaunae Miller’s spectacular mid-air dive for the line earned her a thrilling victory from pre-event favourite Allyson Felix.
The Bahamian, who followed in the distant footsteps of her countrywoman Tonique Williams-Darling as champion of this event, crossed the line in a personal best of 49.44 to finish 0.07 ahead of Felix and deny the US sprinter what would have been a record-breaking fifth Olympic athletics gold medal for a woman.
The bronze medal went to the fast-finishing Jamaican Shericka Jackson in 49.85, yet the enduring image of this race will be of Miller’s breathtaking golden dive.
The final, held about 25 minutes later earlier than scheduled because of the early deluge of rain, was expected to be a tight tussle between Felix and Miller and so it proved.
With Miller drawn in lane seven and Felix in lane four, the Bahamian will have felt the quick-starting Natasha Hastings breathing down her neck after the US sprinter made her trademark electric start.
Down the back straight, however, Miller’s long legs were greedily eating up the ground, and she slowly established control of the race with Felix not yet prominent.
Entering the home straight, Miller held a clear three-metre advantage from Hastings with Felix back in third having conceded plenty of ground.
Yet midway down the final 100m, Miller’s stride perceptively started to shorten and Felix noticeably found another gear and started to gnaw at the Bahamian’s advantage.
Diving for gold
As the line approached it would seem certain the American would edge it, but in a final desperate act, the 22-year-old Miller made an instinctive dive for the line, launching herself off the ground with arms outstretched.
In what looked a desperately close finish, some experts were calling Felix.
Unofficially, the winning time initially flashed up at 49.51. However, as Miller laid prostrate across the track, the official result confirmed Miller had taken it 49.44, a PB by 0.11.
Felix had registered the second-best time of her career with 49.51 but this was not enough to deliver her dream of Olympic 400m gold.
Jackson finished with a powerful late surge to grab bronze in 49.85, the same colour medal as won behind Felix and Miller at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
The fast-starting Hastings held on for fourth in 50.30 with her US teammate Phyllis Francis taking fifth in 50.41 while Jamaica’s Stephenie-Ann McPherson crossed the line sixth in 50.97.
For the 22-year-old Miller – the 2011 world U18 and 2010 world U20 champion – victory was the prize she most craved.
“This is the moment I’ve been waiting for,” she said. “I just gave it my all. I am just so happy, so grateful, such emotions I just can’t say. I’ve been going through so much this year. Everybody at home will all be celebrating right now.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF