2016 Olympics: A historical silver lining to Allyson Felix's silver medal
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Allyson Felix in lane 4. Shaunae Miller in lane 7. They’re charging toward the finish line on a muggy Monday night in Rio.
The crowd noise grew like a crescendo until the final few meters, when something bizarre happened. Did she trip? Did she lunge? Did she win? She won. Shaunae won.
The women’s 400m final proved to be a thrilling matchup between Felix, the living legend of American track, and Miller, a speedy 22-year-old from the Bahamas. Ultimately, Miller’s last-second dive at the finish line gave her a split-second victory, denying Felix a chance to win gold in her only individual event of the 2016 Olympics.
“I'm disappointed,” said Felix, fighting back tears after the race. “It's been a tough year and I was kind of hoping it would come together. I didn't think about lunging myself. I tried to give it all I had but I didn't have any more to give in the last 10 meters.
"I wasn't quite sure who'd won, you never are when it's that close. It is always hard after a 400 and I was physically and emotionally drained. I was just thinking 'disappointment'. It has been a tough year but I just really wanted it."
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 16, 2016
When she looked up at the scoreboard, Felix saw a No. 2 next to her name with a time of 49.51, while Miller claimed the No. 1 with a mark of 49.44.
But if there’s a silver lining with her silver medal, it’s that Felix became the most decorated female athlete in American track and field history. It marked her seventh Olympic medal, including fourth individual, surpassing the total of Team USA icon Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who earned hers in the long jump and heptathlon.
Felix, who graduated from USC, and Joyner-Kersee, who is one of the most famous athletes in the famed UCLA athletics program, have grown close over the years. Felix is now competing in her fourth Olympic games and coached by Bobby Kersee, Jackie’s husband.
“Jackie has been an amazing person in my life, along with Bobby,” Felix said. “She’s been a mentor to me. Throughout my career she has encouraged me and helped me, but especially this year. Every time something new that would happen that would come up, Jackie was the first person to call to support me and encourage me. To even be anywhere in the same breath as Jackie is amazing. All her medals, they’re all individual. I have a lot of relay medals, so to me, I could never be in Jackie’s category.”
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If everything had gone to plan, Felix would still have a chance to defend her gold medal from London in the 200m event. Alas, Felix -- running less than 100 percent after injuring her ankle earlier in the year -- was edged by former Oregon Duck Jenna Prandini by 0.01 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials for the last spot in the 200m.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking for me to not be there, it’s my favorite race,” Felix said. “I wish this year would have gone differently for me, but that’s just a part of sports, things that you have to deal with. For me, I had to regroup. Of course I’ll watch, but it will be difficult. I would love to defend my title and I would love to see where I’m at in the 200m but that’s not the case.”
Felix will still have a chance to add to her Olympic medal haul with the upcoming relays. She and her teammates will look to defend their 2012 gold medals from the 4x100m and 4x400 relays, likely facing stiff competition from Jamaica along the way.
“We always have a great rivalry,” Felix said of Team USA and Jamaica. “I think this year is no different. I think we’re excited to get back out there and compete. I think we always get the best of each other and especially when it comes to the relays. It goes back-and-forth so much over the years, so it’s a highlight for us. We’re looking forward to it and I think it will be another great showdown.”