London – Dominican American Félix Sánchez won the 400-meter hurdles final with the memory of his late grandma on his mind and in his heart winning his second career gold at age 34, and the Dominican Republic's first medal of the 2012 Games.
He ran with a photo of the two of them pinned beneath his race bib, and "Abuela" — Spanish for "Grandmother" — written on his yellow spikes.
Ironically, it started raining. It just made me feel like my grandmother was crying tears of joy. She was proud of me.
- Felix Sánchez, Dominican American Olympian
And after those shoes carried him to a no-doubt-about-it victory in 47.63 seconds Monday night Sánchez pulled out that picture, placed it down on the track, knelt and tenderly kissed the image of the woman who raised him.
"I've been really emotional all week, thinking about her," Sánchez said. "All of us do it — you think about winning, you train so hard. You get to this moment and everything has to go right for you to pull it off."
Sánchez won the 400 hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Four years later in Beijing, he woke up on the morning of his preliminary heat to the news that his grandmother had died. Sánchez thought about dropping out but decided to run, and he wound up with the 22nd-fastest time of 25 finishers.
"I ran terribly. I cried the whole day. I was very emotional," he recalled. "After that Olympics, I made a promise that I was going to win a medal for her."
He separated himself from the pack down the stretch, so far ahead that he could start celebrating early, sticking out his tongue as he crossed the line and letting out a scream.
"I went out probably too hard. ... I came off the 10th hurdle and I was very tired. And for about three or four strides — about 5 meters — I was just waiting for someone to pass me. But then about 10, 15 meters to the line, I knew at that point no one was going to pass me," said Sánchez, who went to the University of Southern California. "And then it got surreal, and I was just overwhelmed with emotion."
Those feelings welled up even more strongly a short while later, when Sánchez stepped atop the podium for the medals ceremony, the raising of the Dominican Republic's flag, and the playing of the national anthem.
It began to drizzle, and Sánchez began sobbing. He covered his face with his hands and spectators offered a loud cheer of support in response.
"Ironically, it started raining. It just made me feel like my grandmother was crying tears of joy," Sánchez explained at his news conference, choking up. "She was proud of me."
Crowd favorite Dai Greene of Britain was fourth, and two-time Olympic champion Angelo Taylor was fifth, unable to match Sánchez's late burst.
"My hat goes off to him. He put it together. I know how tough it is to repeat as champion, and he's been working hard all year long," Taylor said. "He's had some struggles, but he put it together on the day that counts."
Sánchez turns 35 later this month, and he's the oldest man to win an Olympic race of 400 meters or fewer.
Tinsley, who is 28, talked about being in high school and watching Sánchez race.
"I hope I can run into my 30s as well," Tinsley said.
He was asked whether he would be a part of the 4x400 relay team for the U.S. later in the week.
"I'm not worried about that," Tinsley said, then he patted his right pocket, the one where he had stuffed his silver medal, and added: "I came for that."
Reported and written by the Associated Press.