— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 16, 2016
If you were watching your NBC stream last evening (and here’s hoping it didn’t cut out right before the race) on your computer while looking at Twitter on your phone, you may have noticed a serious spike in angry tweets just as Bahamian runner Shaunae Miller was flinging her torso across the finish line to claim gold in the women’s Olympic 400-meter sprint, denying American Allyson Felix another gold medal. It was a chaotic finish to an intense race, and people on Twitter didn’t seem to like it.
Now I know what you’re saying: Twitter isn’t the world (And thank God to that, because if Twitter did represent all of humanity as a whole, it would be a much darker place than it already is), but what you do get on Twitter, from a sports perspective, is the essence of the sports fan. You get the initial freakout, all the emotion distilled into under 140 characters, the initial opinion that maybe isn’t the right one, but it’s the one whatever sport you’re watching evokes. And that, for nearly everybody including number one Olympic fan Leslie Jones, was a mix of anger and confusion. (Jones, to her credit, also eventually tweeted that the win was fair.)
So let’s clear this up real fast using this handy Vox primer laying out exactly why Miller’s dive wasn’t cheating. As it’s explained, “The first athlete whose torso (as distinguished from the head, neck, arms, legs, hands or feet) reaches the vertical plane of the closest edge of the finish line is the winner.” That’s all. Your feet don’t have to be the first thing to cross that line. If you want to catapult yourself over the finish line and risk all sorts of injuries that might not be that fun, that is all on you. In fact, American runner David Neville did it in 2008 and, maybe it’s because I wasn’t on Twitter then, but the freakout didn’t seem as great. Maybe it’s because it was for the bronze and not the gold as some people pointed out, or maybe because Felix is a beloved and highly decorated runner and people were pissed to see her only get a silver. Whatever the case, it was legal, and it was actually pretty thrilling.
Sports get ugly. Sometimes there’s mud, blood and sweat, and often there are injuries. What Miller did may not have looked graceful, but it got her the gold medal, the highest point for nearly any athlete on the planet. But she took a risk, and not the fear of the backlash, I’m sure that didn’t even cross her mind. Miller had to dive at exactly the right point to achieve just the right amount speed. The second you leave your feet to dive, deceleration occurs, and there’s a chance you could just end up on your belly and looking foolish. What Miller did took guts. It wasn’t the best look, but that really won’t matter after she goes home with her medal. She didn’t cheat, she just didn’t win it the normal way.
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Watch sprinter Shaunae Miller talk about her mindset heading into the Rio Olympics.