October 3rd, 2019
On a day dominated by the concluding, second-day competition in the multi-events, one of the most anticipated track finals in this the 7th day of these world athletics championships was the women’s 400 meters. After a preliminary round on Day 4 followed by 3 semi-final heats the following day, the stage was set for what should be one of the most exciting track finals at these championships.
The final looked to be a showdown between USA’s Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas and Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain. As the only athletes to break 50 seconds in the early rounds, 2016 400m Olympic champion Miller-Uibo [semi winner in 49.66] and ’17 world championship 400m silver medalist Naser [semi winner in 49.79] were expected to lock horns in what was anticipated to be a titanic homestretch battle for the gold. USA’s defending champion Phyliss Francis [50.22 in her semi], her teammate Wadeline Jonathis [a personal best 50.07 in her semi], and the Jamaican athlete Shericka Jackson [50.10 in her semi] all stood ready to pounce if the two favorites would falter.
As the 400 meter final got underway, both Naser and Miller-Uibo got out quickly followed closely by the defending champion Francis. Yet none in that trio appeared to have a sizeable advantage as they entered the final furlong. But it was on the ensuing curve – that 3rd 100 meter segment – when Naser really went to work. Using her superior leg speed, Naser blazed around the bend. And just like that, the Bahraini athlete had forged a sizeable advantage – perhaps 10 meters – heading into the homestretch. Stunned by her rival’s lead, a startled Miller-Uibo attempted to mount a charge. And while the Bahamian athlete made initial inroads into Naser’s lead, the gap proved too large. Racing all the way through the finish line, Naser stopped the clock at 48.14 – the fastest 400 meter time by a woman in nearly 34 years. Miller-Uibo [48.37], soundly defeated, finished strongly as well for the silver while Jamaica’s Jackson finished in 49.47 – a superb mark that would normally win this event under ordinary circumstances – snared the bronze medal. PR’s by Jonathas [49.60] and Francis [49.61] earned the two Americans the 4th and 5th spots.
The quality and depth of this 400 meter final is breathtaking. The top 5 finalists all set personal best times. Naser’s jaw-dropping 48.14 is now #3 on the all-time world list, behind only Germany’s Marita Koch [47.60 set in 1985] and the Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova [47.99 set in 1983]. Miller Uibo’s mark of 48.37 now ranks 6th all-time just behind France’s Marie-Jose Perec [now #4 all time in 48.25 set in 1996] and the Soviet Union’s Olga Bryzgina [now #5 all time in 48.27 set in 1985].
Afterwards, every one of the stunned finalists acknowledged the special nature of this historic race. “I felt pretty good,” said 5th-place Francis as she analyzed her race. “I was just trying to get out. I fell a little back. I was hoping to finish stronger. I kind of lost form with 4-5 meters to go. But I came out with a PB.” Surprise 4th place finisher Waseline Jonathas saw the race as her opportunity to run a personal best time – and she did. “Shaunae and Naser were the targets. I knew it would be a fast race. And I knew I could get something out of this. I was pushing myself to the limit. I am happy.”
Basking in the afterglow of her stunning championship victory, the 21-year-old champion explained that her success was aided by a shift in her usual race strategy. “Normally, I chase,” she said. “Today, I wanted to be chased.” Her fellow finalists chased her. But nobody was going to catch her tonight. / Dave Hunter /
Dave Hunter is an award-winning journalist who is a U.S. Correspondent for Track & Field News. He also writes a weekly column and serves as Senior Writer for www.RunBlogRun.com, and covers championship track & field competition domestically and in such global capitals as Moscow, Birmingham, Zurich, Brussels, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Zagreb, and Ostrava. Hunter frequently serves as the arena or stadium announcer for championship track & field gatherings, including the Ivy League, the Big East, the Mid-American Conference, the NAIA, the Big Ten, and the Millrose Games. Hunter has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments.. He ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic Era. To find out more about Dave, visit his website: www.trackandfieldhunter.com He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org