Another global women’s one-lap final; another dramatic denouement with Shauae Miller-Uibo in the lead role….but not, this time, the leading lady across the finish line.
It was not quite a repeat of Rio, when Miller-Uibo’s desperate dive for the line won her Olympic gold ahead of the rapidly closing Allyson Felix. Twelve months on, Miller-Uibo again had gold in her sights as she surged down the home straight some 3m clear of a seemingly tiring Felix.
This time, it was Phyllis Francis, third leg runner in the US team that won the 4 x 400m relay final in Rio, who was on the charge from behind. At 30m out, the Bahamian Miller-Uibo still had a comfortable cushion with the line beckoning.
Then, with 20m to go, she suddenly lost momentum. Miller-Uibo did not exactly crumple to the track; she appeared to stub the surface with her right foot, possibly when feeling a cramp in the cold, wet conditions, while also feeling the effects of lactic build up.
As the clear favourite faded out of the medal frame completely, eventually crossing the line fourth in 50.49, Francis seized the day, the chance and the title.
The 25-year-old, who finished runner up to Quanera Hayes in the US Championships, took one of the big surprise golds of these 2017 IAAF World Championships in 49.92, a fine lifetime best in the conditions.
Salwa Eid Naser, the 19-year-old Bahraini who had posted the fastest times in the heats and semi-finals, continued her rapid progression, snatching the silver medal in 50.06, another national record. The young woman who won the 2015 world youth title in Cali wearing a hijab became the first Asian medallist in the event.
Felix, a clear winner of the 2015 final ahead of Miller-Uibo, started to run out of steam in the home straight after going out hard but still managed to hold on for the bronze medal in 50.08. In doing so, the 31-year-old US athlete joined Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey as the most be-medalled competitor in World Championship history, stretching her personal tally to 14 – with the two relays still to come in London.
Miller-Uibo, of course, still has the 200m to come; she is due to line up in the semi-finals on Thursday. So long as she has suffered no physical damage, she is certain to be a woman on a mission.
Still, as with Miller-Uibo in Rio last year, in London tonight it was Francis’ night to bask in the afterglow of her unexpected triumph.
"It’s amazing,” she said. “I’m so excited. It is such an amazing feeling. Being world champion sounds pretty cool. This win has not hit me yet, but I guess it will tomorrow when I wake up.
"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."
Naser was also coming to terms with her achievement. “I think I surprised my opponents and I even surprised myself,” she said. “Coming to these championships, I really did not think about a medal. After all the hard training I have been through, I just hoped to do something big.
“I was not chasing Felix; I was pushing myself until the very end. I did not even see what was going on in the last metres. Felix is my role model. I am following her on Instagram.
“In the future I will also focus on the 200m, but it’s 400m for now.”
For the record, behind the stunned Miller-Uibo, Shericka Jackson took fifth in 50.76, ahead of her Jamaican team-mate Stephenie Ann McPhertson (50.86), African champion Kabange Mupopo (51.15) and 2007 bronze medallist Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF