Now that the Rio Olympics has turned from water sports to track and field, viewers around the globe are tuning in to watch people run really, really fast.
But so far these races — both in the pool and on the track — seem to be marked by predictability. The people who are favored to win, well, have been winning.
What we needed was an old-fashioned, neck-and-neck duel to the finish line.
And on Monday night, we finally got that in the women’s 400 meters.
The race, a full revolution around the track, was nearing its end with sprinter Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas in the lead. But she was clearly fading, and the United States’ Allyson Felix — one of the more decorated women’s athletes in the last 10 years — was poised to pull ahead and steal the race.
But at the final moment, Shaunae Miller appeared to dive, or collapse — or both — and literally fell across the finish line.
As I watched it live, I thought two things: Who the hell won, and is that even allowed?
Turns out that yes, it is allowed, and the climactic leap actually gave Miller the victory by seven tenths of a seconds.
Then I wondered, how is that even fair? I logged onto Twitter and saw hundreds of observers voicing the same thing, some even clamoring for Miller’s disqualification, saying that diving really has no place in an event that requires its participants to run upright.
For her part, Miller and her coach insist that the dive was unintentional — her legs simply gave out from under her as she tried to lean across the line, they said.
But 24 hours later, I have since learned two things. A runner hasn’t officially finished the race until their torso crosses the finish line (as opposed to the head, neck, arms, legs, hands or feet), and that diving actually slows you down. Research shows that you decelerate once you leave your feet, and that’s why you always see runners lean forward and stick their chest out during that final step.
Even Michael Johnson knows what’s up.
However, a perfectly timed dive can give you a slight edge, and that’s what happened on Monday night. It’s a risky maneuver, but can have a big payoff if done correctly.
Also, it hurts. It’s not like you’re diving into a ball pit at Chuck-E Cheese. Which everyone should do at least once a month. If they ask, tell them I sent you.
So congratulations to the Bahamas for earning a gold medal in what will almost certainly never be known anywhere else but on this blog as “The Dive Heard Around the World.”
Before I sign off, it’s worth noting that a Haiti sprinter named Jeffrey Julmis had an “epic fail” during the 110-meter hurdles semifinal on Tuesday night, apparently forgetting to jump as he approached the first hurdle. His leg barely even made it halfway over, and he and the hurdle, momentarily united as one, went sprawling onto the track.
Julmis disappeared from view as the rest of the race continued. It was cringeworthy to watch.
But to his credit, Julmis got up.
We all fall down sometimes. It can be embarrassing. But take a page out of Jeffrey Julmis’s book and get back up.