LONDON (Reuters) – American Phyllis Francis won a surprise World Championships 400 metres gold on Wednesday as Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo inexplicably stumbled when seemingly certain of victory and dropped to fifth place.
Francis looked out of it with 80 metres to go but maintained her form amid the carnage to post a personal best time of 49.92 seconds and take a shock gold medal even though she had no idea she had won.
Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, 19, claimed a brilliant silver in 50.06, her third national record this week, as defending champion Allyson Felix of the United States faded to get bronze in 50.08.
Bahamian Miller-Uibo, who famously dived over the line to pip Felix to Olympic gold last year, was clear with less than 20 metres left but as she tired and tied up she tripped on her own foot, stumbling almost to a standstill as her rivals stormed past her.
It was incredible finale to a race that had appeared to be going to form for the first 300 metres. Felix looked her usual smooth self despite the sodden track and had made up the stagger on Francis a lane outside her by the end of the first bend.
However, she did not come off the final bend with her usual authority and Miller-Uibo took it up and surged ahead into the final straight.
The title seemed secure as Felix began to fade further but Miller-Uibo then lost her form in the most dramatic style. Her legs seemed to stiffen, perhaps through cramp, and became entangled. As she virtually stopped running, the fast-finishing Francis, Naser, Felix and fourth-placed Shericka Jackson of Jamaica all surged past.
“I am so excited. It is such an amazing feeling, being world champion sounds pretty cool,” said Francis, who finished fifth in the Rio Olympic final.
“This win has not hit me yet, but I guess tomorrow when I will wake up.
“Allyson and Shaunae are amazing finishers but when I went down the home straight I just believed in myself and stayed patient. I just knew what I was capable of doing, so I stuck to my race model.
“At the finish line I was surprised, I thought I was second or third, but then they told me ‘you are first’. That is crazy.”
American former 400 and 200m world champion Michael Johnson, working as a pundit for the BBC, was as stunned by what unfolded as everyone else in the 55,000 crowd.
“I have never seen anything like that,” he said. “At the 200m mark it looked like it was shaping up to be a great race. When an athlete pulls up and jumps in the air like that, it is normally a hamstring strain.”
Felix’s bronze took her world championship medal haul to 14, matching the record of Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey. The American’s tally includes nine golds.