Felix falters in 400 rematch as Francis grabs win at worlds
LONDON (AP) — Shaunae Miller-Uibo pulled up with about 30 meters to go. Allyson Felix uncharacteristically faded near the finish.
Phyllis Francis? She just kept on running.
The rematch between Felix and Miller-Uibo in the 400 meters on a rainy Wednesday night at the world championships took an unexpected turn. Neither runner wound up on the top step of the podium. That honor belonged to Francis, the 25-year-old American who seemed as shocked as anyone to be crossing the line in first.
“At the finish line I was surprised. I thought I was second or third,” Francis said, “but then they told me ‘You are first.’ That is crazy.”
Francis was among the also-rans during last year’s final at the Olympics, which will be remembered for one thing: Miller-Uibo’s dive over the finish line to edge out Felix.
It was one of the most painful losses of Felix’s career, and in the aftermath, a debate ensued over whether the Bahamian was being sportsmanlike by leaving her feet (Consensus: You do whatever you can to win) or whether she had even done it on purpose (She said she didn’t).
For 2017, Felix skipped her signature distance, the 200, to focus on the 400, which set things up for a rematch in London.
It didn’t work out the way anyone expected, and not for the first time of this meet. Usain Bolt finished third in his 100. Elaine Thompson, the defending Olympic champion from Jamaica, finished fifth in hers.
“I feel outside forces kind of build these races up,” Felix said. “This whole championships, we’ve seen that, and it doesn’t always play out the way people expect it to. As a competitor, you respect everyone in the race. You saw that tonight.”
Early on, this looked to be the two-sprinter show that everyone expected. Then, as they hit the homestretch, Miller-Uibo pulled far into the lead, with Felix, Francis and Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain racing for second.
When Miller-Uibo came up lame, it looked like Felix might get her big break. Instead, Francis had the closing kick.
“The legs were just heavy. Just didn’t have it coming home,” said Felix, who got out-leaned by Naser by .02 seconds for the silver.
Just as disappointed as in Rio de Janeiro?
“The Olympic 400 is a different thing altogether,” Felix explained. “I tried to come into this race with a fresh approach, to give it my all. I couldn’t put it quite together. It’s disappointing — have to pick up the pieces and move on.”
This still marked Felix’s 14th career medal at the worlds. Though it may have been one of the most disappointing medals of them all, it still ties her with some pretty big names: Bolt and Merlene Ottey. Bolt can still move to 15 with a medal in the 4x100 relay later this weekend, but Felix might run on both relay races for the U.S. team, which could bring her to 16.
Felix already has the most gold medals among women with nine overall. Bolt has 11.
“On a night like this, this is the race that matters to me. Once I can reflect, it will be cool,” Felix said.
She really wanted this one, bad.
“This is what it’s about, the individual races. This is my goal this year. To come up short, it’s never fun to miss the mark,” Felix said.
Francis, meanwhile, conceded she sometimes deviates from her game plan in the heat of the moment. This time, she stayed with her approach.
“I told myself, ‘Don’t freak out. Be patient. Trust in yourself. I’m meant to be here. I’m strong enough. I’ve been putting in the work. You’ve got this,’” Francis said.
She had been thinking about finishing in the top three. Winning? Not something she thought about much — until she spotted a friend in the stands, who was jumping up and down.
“My friend was like, ‘You did it!’” Francis said. “I was like, ‘Holy smokes.’”
More AP track coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/London2017