RIO DE JANEIRO – David Neville was watching from his Fort Wayne, Indiana, home when Bahamian Shaunae Miller dived across the line at the end of her victory over Allyson Felix in the Olympic 400m final on Monday night.
Naturally, it reminded him of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“At first I didn’t think about it, then, probably about two seconds later,” Neville said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I bet you everybody’s going to be talking about what happened eight years ago.”
Miller’s dive – which has been debated regarding fairness on social media but was perfectly legal – is not uncommon in sprints.
Eight years ago, Neville dived for bronze in the last time the U.S. swept a Summer Olympic event. LaShawn Merritt took gold. Jeremy Wariner got silver.
Neville was in fourth place on the final straightaway, straining from lane 9 to catch up to Wariner in lane 7 and Chris Brown in lane 5.
Neville said he was trying for the perfect lean at the line when his feet came out from under him. He put his arms out to break his fall.
The dive, if even inadvertent, was perfectly timed for his midsection crossing the finish line. That’s what the clock measures, not one’s head or hands or feet.
Neville passed Brown for the bronze medal during the stumble by .04. Coincidentally, Brown is from the Bahamas, like Miller.
“I wasn’t thinking about diving or trying to dive or anything like that,” Neville said Tuesday. “In reality, what happened was I was trying to get to that line, and I pulled the hardest thing I could possibly pull out.
“It looks like I’m diving across the finish line, but I’m really trying to get through it first.”
Miller’s explanation Monday night wasn’t that different.
"I don't know what happened. My mind just went blank," Miller said, according to the Associated Press. "The only thing I was thinking (about) was the gold medal, and the next thing I know, I was on the ground."
Neville couldn’t say whether his dive gave him an advantage over Brown’s more conventional lean across the line in Beijing.
“I honestly have no clue,” he said.
Naturally, Neville believes diving across the finish line should continue to be allowed.
“Whether you cross the finish line standing up, leaning, diving, those photo finishes, close finishes, make our sport an amazing one,” he said.
Neville, who received track burn on his chest, shoulder and thighs from the fall, said he has never talked about the finish with Brown.
He also said that he received little backlash for his move that was largely seen as one of grit and determination at the time.
“I heard that some people were a little upset, not sure if there was a protest filed or not, but I heard some rumors of that,” Neville said. “But social media is not where it is now. People weren’t talking about it to the degree they are now [with Miller]. At least here in America, I didn’t receive any negative feedback.”
Neville retired in March 2014 due to injuries at age 29. He’s now the head track and field coach at Taylor University in Indiana.
In his office there is a finish-line photo from the Beijing Olympic 400m final.
“It’s not something I look at every day,” he said. “I’ve got a lot more of me standing up running.”