Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas doesn’t know why she dove headfirst at the end of Monday night’s 400-m final at Rio’s Olympic stadium. She says she never did it before — it’s not exactly something sprinters practice. But she felt American Allyson Felix charging in the last 20-meters. Her legs felt heavy. She could taste a gold medal. Her body took over. So she dove.
Miller likely would have won the race without flying — literally — across the finish, her torso touching the line just ahead of Felix. But what’s a little cut on your right hip, and your right arm and a few bruises and burns here and there, when Olympic gold is at stake? When you can hear you mother screaming from the stands — “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” — confirming an unforgettable win?
With the victory, Miller earned the Bahamas its first gold medal of the Rio Olympics. Felix fell .07 seconds short, winning her third Olympic silver in an individual race. Shericka Jackson of Jamaica took bronze.
The silver gave Felix her seventh Olympic medal, making her the most decorated women’s track and field athlete in American history and breaking the U.S. record of six held by her mentor Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Still, she couldn’t celebrate. “I think I’ll have to look back at that,” says Felix. “It’s a little bittersweet now. I’m a competitor. I went for it. I think in the moment, it’s painful.”
Felix had regrets about the first half of the race. “I think I should have been a bit more aggressive,” she says. “I might have let it get a bit away from me.” She teared up afterwards. “I just feel emotionally and physically drained,” she says. An ankle injury this spring nearly derailed Felix’s record-breaking chase: she tried to run both the 200-m, which she won at the 2012 London Olympics, and 400-m in Rio but fell .01 seconds short of qualifying for the 200-m at the U.S. trials. “I don’t think I’ve quite had a year this tough,”she says. “I just really wanted it.”
Both runners lay on the track after the race for some 20 minutes, too exhausted to move. Miller’s mom disapproved. “She was looking at me, like ‘get up, get up,'” Miller says. “I was like ‘not right now. Let me catch myself real quick.'”
Before the stunning finish in the 400-m, David Rudisha of Kenya won his second straight Olympic gold medal in the 800-m, with a time of 1:42:15, best in the world this year. Rudisha set the world record in the event four years ago in London; a remarkable kick after the 400-m mark in the Rio race locked up another Olympic win for him. Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi won silver and American Clayton Murphy took bronze in his first Olympics on the strength of a late-race rush, becoming the first American to medal in the event since 1992.
The wet evening, which caused a brief delay, ended with more drama. Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva delighted the home crowd, which was far sparser than Sunday night given the rainy weather and absence of Usain Bolt, by winning a pole vault gold medal in his final attempt. Defending Olympic champ Renaud Lavillenie, of France, had one last chance to prevent the upset. Lavillenie waved his finger at the crowd, telling the fans not to celebrate so soon. He then crashed into the pole, like a stock car colliding with a wall. He settled for silver: Brazil’s fans went bonkers. American Sam Kendricks took bronze.
Earlier in the day, Emma Coburn of the U.S. claimed bronze in the 3,000-m steeplechase, the first American woman to ever medal in the event. Ruth Jebet of Bahrain finished won gold, followed by Kenya’s Hyvin Jepkemoi with silver. Also, Anita Wolddarczyk of Poland won women’s hammer throw gold, and set a new world record with a 82.29 meter hurl.
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Miller’s dive, however, stood out at the track on Monday. The 400-m finish was one of those indelible Olympic moments, to be remembered long after the Rio Games close. Watching at home in St. Louis, the woman whose record Felix broke was left speechless. “I was like, was that just real?” Joyner-Kersee tells TIME in a telephone interview. “Whoooo.” Felix has close ties to the Kersee clan. Joyner-Kersee, the great U.S. heptathlete and long jumper who starred at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics has helped steward her career. Bob Kersee, Joyner-Kersee’s husband, is Felix’s coach.
As humble as Usain Bolt is brash, Felix played down the potential record in the days before the race. “All of her medals are individual, and I have a lot of relays, so to me I can never be in Jackie’s category,” Felix said last week.
Joyner-Kersee, however, disagrees. “She has surpassed me, regardless of relays or whatever,” Joyner-Kersee said after the race. She’s happy to hand over the “most-decorated” flag to Felix. “If someone’s going to break the record, it should be Allyson,” Joyner-Kersee tells TIME. “You can see joy in her running. Once she gets on the track, she’s a storm — but a beautiful one.” At around 1 p.m. Rio time Monday, Joyner-Kersee sent Felix a text message. “Allyson, the victory is yours,” it read. “Go and claim it.”
Felix was close, but missed by a dive. The record — and the heartbreak — is all hers.