Felix-vs.-Tarmoh Dead Heat: Why Track’s Big Night … Went Kaput

As the last minute, Jeneba Tarmoh backed out of her prime-time duel with Allyson Felix. How the runoff veered off course

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Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Allyson Felix, right, wins the women's 200 meters final ahead of Jeneba Tarmoh at the U.S. Olympic athletics trials in Eugene, Oregon, June 30, 2012.

At least there’d be a runoff. Since June 23, the night U.S. sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh finished their Olympic trials race in a dead heat for the third, and final, spot on the 100-meter Olympic team, that was the hope. After Tarmoh ran a victory lap following the 100-m final – the scoreboard said she finished third; after USA Track and Field overruled the interpretation of the photo finish judge and called it a dead heat; after USA Track and Field then announced it had no procedures on the books to break a tie; after USA Track and Field made up a tiebreaker on the fly, one that included a coin toss option; after the whole debacle, fans would at least be treated to an unprecedented prime-time duel, scheduled for Monday night, to determine the rightful winner. Felix vs. Tarmoh, with the Olympics on the line. It would have been pretty cool.

Except that Tarmoh got cold feet. She pulled out of the runoff Monday morning, ceding her 100-m spot to Felix. At first, the decision seemed dumbfounding. Here Tarmoh had what could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make the Olympics, and she did not want to run for 11 more seconds? She had already agreed to the runoff on Sunday. Why the change of mind?

But when you hear Tarmoh explain herself, the decision makes more sense. First off, she was drained, both physically and emotionally. Give Felix, coming off a first-place, personal-best 21.69 second performance in the 200-m final Saturday night, credit for being ready for a runoff. Tarmoh, who also ran that 200-meters and finished fifth, just didn’t have it in her. As Tarmoh told NBCOlympics.com: “I don’t believe that I would have been at my best if I went out there.” That’s no mindset for an Olympic-level race.

(MORE: Dead Heat – How The U.S. Track And Field Trials Got All Muddled)

Second, Tarmoh now has the moral high ground. On Sunday night, she told the Associated Press that she felt “robbed.” On June 26, an SI.com article by veteran track and field writer Tim Layden revealed that Roger Jennings, the man who originally called Felix the winner after carefully viewing the photo finish, had an obstructed view of Tarmoh’s torso. In track, first torso to the line wins. Yet, he interpolated where Tarmoh’s torso would have been at the line – based on solid information – and seemed fairly confident Tarmoh won the race by a thousandth of a second. The key section:

Jennings said, “In the end, my read was subjective. The involvement of the torso is always subjective to some degree. They (USATF) went with what they could actually see. I was overruled, and I certainly signed off on their decision. But I did my job. I called what I saw. I try to stay consistent. If I went back and read that photo 100 times, I would call it the same way every time.” (That is, he would call Tarmoh the winner, based on an interpolation of where her torso was at the finish).

Participating in a runoff would have been a tacit acknowledgment that the race was a tie. Tarmoh didn’t agree with that result (though she backed off, slightly, the “robbed” characterization Monday in her NBCOlympics.com interview: “I wouldn’t call it robbed. I felt like I couldn’t really experience my joy.”) Some of Tarmoh’s surrogates are furious, and convinced that track’s higher-ups overruled Jennings because they wanted Felix in the 100-meter race. After all, Felix’s race for two golds – in the 100-meters and 200-meters – is a hot storyline for London. “I’m pissed off,” says Steve Nelson, who coached Tarmoh at Mount Pleasant High School in San Jose, Calif. and remains in touch with his star pupil. “I think she’s getting ramrodded because she’s not Allyson Felix.”

If Tarmoh agrees with Nelson’s sentiment, she’s not letting it on publicly. Tarmoh says she and Felix, her training partner, are still friends. And USA Track and Field denies it favored Felix. “The identities of the runners were irrelevant to the rank order of finish and proper protocols were followed,” Jill Geer, spokeswoman for USA Track and Field, writes an email. “The photo-finish image speaks for itself. USATF worked closely with the athletes to determine a fair tiebreaker. It is unfortunate that Ms. Tarmoh had a change of heart, but everyone involved worked earnestly and honestly to resolve the tie fairly.”

The problem: no work should have been needed. It was the confusion, and the uncertainty, of the situation that weighted on the athletes, and tested the patience of fans. “I think if they had probably had procedures for dead heats before this track meet and before we ran the finals, it would have been easier on Allyson and I,” Tarmoh told NBCOlympics.com. For track, these are devastating words. This was a mess of the sport’s own making.

MORE: 50 Olympic Athletes To Watch

9 comments
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Gin Heedneeds
Gin Heedneeds

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Pravin Ratnam
Pravin Ratnam

I understand that she is drained. But this kind of stuff happens in other sports. If an NFL game went to OT because the replay ruled a tying TD after on field it was ruled out of bounds, would the team that was leading until then even think of forfeiting OT just  because gthey claim they were mentally drained after going through th ejoy of thinking they won for a few seconds???

If she chickened out of a runoff, then she is not fit for Olympic pressure. If a photo finish cannot even meet unanimous agreement, then it is a tie whether she Tarmoh likes it or not. if she was good enough, it wouldn't be close enough for a tie. 

She should have sucked it up and ran.  

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

I usually like to take people at face value; I don't like speculating at their reasons. But this decision really boggles my mind. I get it that she thought she couldn't win. And I understand that nobody wants to run a race that they don't think they can win. But this was for a spot in the OLYMPICS! For me, I would worry more about spending the rest of my life wondering, "What if?" I hope Tarmoh doesn't do that. I really hope she is at peace with her decision. But after all the work she's done, after all those years of practice, how could she not run? No one would have faulted her for trying. No matter the results, she would have been an inspiration and a role model to everyone. I wish her well. I really do.

universe234
universe234

The attempted thousandth of a second discrimination, both using the electronic timing or its spatial separation using the photo finish is highly questionable. This is 1 millimetre over a 10sec running time and I doubt the lengths of the two athletes lanes can be guaranteed to be the same to that accuracy.

Professorlcos Professorlocs
Professorlcos Professorlocs

I had my popcorn and was ready to watch the tie breaking race---to no avail.  I still cannot believe that after four long years of training, Tarmoh did not want to run.  I agree that is was a let down for her when the outcome was questioned---but don't you get thicked-skined from being an Olympian?  Is it Olympics politics at play?  I hope not.

Vanessa Wyndham
Vanessa Wyndham

 Unfortunately I think there is something going on beneath the surface here that none of us will ever know. Allyson Felix is the 'darling' of US track and field and Ms. Tarmoh messed up the party. Who knows what pressure may have been brought to bear that resulted in this decision. I never understood why Felix chose to run in the 100 because she honestly has no chance of winning. She ought to have stuck to her original plan of running in the 200 and 400 meters.

Britany Riley
Britany Riley

I certainly understand the thought that there might be some moves happening behind the scenes in terms of Allyson Felix but as an athlete Allyson Felix should absolutely run the 100. She doesn't run the 100 because she believes that she stands a legitimate chance of winning it. You'll constantly hear her say that the 200 is her baby. 

Felix loves and excels in the 200 and the reason that she's only a silver medalist is because she's always struggled to run well in the first 50-100m of the race. Running the 400 at the last Olympics wasn't useful because it encouraged a slower start with a lot of acceleration at the end so when she ran the 200 against the fastest women in the world, her body was used to a  slower start which made her unable to close the distance at the end. She and her coach started running the 100 so that she could practice picking up speed earlier in the race. It prepares her muscles brain to get in better position in the 200. Now, she has the ability to run a fast first 100 and close better than anyone else. That's why she has the fastest 200 time in the world. 

Leon Spencer
Leon Spencer

Again with the conspiracy theories. Nevermind Tarmoh was NEVER official declared the winner and folks like Sean are being lazy in their reporting.

Watch the video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Jennings, the photo judge, was not OVERRULED follks. He protested himself and brough 4 others judges in to confirm his ruling.

Yacko
Yacko

How did NBC miss the big bucks? This thing screams out, 3 hour, reality TV, multidiscipline contest that would have crushed the ratings. Wouldn't you like to see these ladies race after jello wrestling and hitting each other with nerf bats? It could have been the greatest sporting event for third place in the history of sport, but now too late.

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