Eugene, OR -
Allyson Felix had something to prove.
In the much-anticipated final of the women's 200 meters at the Olympic
Track & Field Trials, Felix put on a spectacular show, winning in 21.69
seconds, a time that was not only her personal best, but also the fastest
ever run on American soil.
Felix moved into the lead midway through the curve and was never
threatened in the race. Trailing in her wake were 100 meter Trials
champion Carmelita Jeter, second in 22.11, and 400 meter Trials winner
Sandra Richards-Ross, third in 22.22.
Jeneba Tarmoh, who finished in a dead heat for third place with Felix a
week ago in the 100 meter finals, was not close this time. Tarmoh was
fifth in 22.35.
Felix's performance had track aficionados pulling out their record books.
21.69 was the fastest time by an American woman in 14 years, and the
sixth-fastest time ever. It made her the third-fastest US woman ever in
the event, and one media type suggested that, in all likelihood, it was
the fastest-ever run by drug-free athlete.
"I just felt like everything came together at the right time," Felix said."It's a blessing and an honor to be a part of the team . . . It was all
about fighting to make the team. This entire trials has been an emotional
The "emotional time" comment certainly refers to the confusion and
controversy surrounding the amazing dead heat between Felix and Tarmoh,
who have the same coach and train together on a daily basis. The initial
announcement after the 100 meter final put Tarmoh in third by .001
seconds, but, unknown to the crowd, the head timer had already alerted
meet officials that the race finish was too close to call. More people
examined the finish photo, and decided it was indeed a tie.
The USATF, governing body for track and field in the U.S., did not have
procedures in place to break a tie. With the sophisticated technology in
place for timing and photographing the finish of races, it apparently was
assumed that there could never be a tie.
If the tie was for first or second place, it wouldn't matter, as both
runners could advance to the Olympic Games as part of the U.S. team. But,
the fact that the tie was for third place, and only three runners can
advance, means it must be broken somehow, unless one of the athletes
withdraws from the event.
The USATF released a statement addressing the issue a day after the dead
heat occurred. Assuming neither athlete voluntarily withdraws, the
tie-breaking procedure announced by USATF offers two possibilities - a
run-off or a coin toss. But here is where it gets complicated.
Felix and Tarmoh are each allowed to choose an option. If the two agree on
a preferred option, then that is what will be used. If they disagree, say
one wants a coin toss and the other a run-off, the policy specifies a
run-off will be used. If both athletes refuse to state a preference, then
it's a coin toss.
The USATF statement borders on the surreal in its "coin toss protocol." A
coin toss should be simple, right? Not according to the USATF policy,
which specifies, ". . . each athlete shall face each other and the USATF
representative shall bend his or her index finger at a 90 degree angle to
his or her thumb, allowing the coin to rest on his or her thumb. In one
single action, the USATF representative shall toss the coin into the air,
allowing the coin to fall to the ground . . . "
However, the protocol for the run-off is quite general, allowing all the
details to be worked out between the USATF Chief of Sport Performance, the
athletes and their coaches. The only specific guideline on the run-off is
that in the case of another dead heat, a coin toss will break the tie.
Now what are the odds of that happening?
Since both Felix and Tarmoh were entered in the 200, a decision on the
tie-breaking options was put off until the completion of that event. Their
coach, Bobby Kersee, was successful in keeping the pair focused on their
"Allyson and I haven't even talked about the 100 (tie-breaker) yet,"
Tarmoh said after the race. "We've just been focused solely on the 200."
Asked if she wanted a run-off with Felix to decide the spot, Tarmoh said,"Actually I really don't know. I just want it to be over with."
At the press conference following the 200 final both Felix and USATF Chief
of Communications Jill Geer said that a decision would be made later in
the evening at a meeting between Kersee, Felix, Tarmoh and USATF Chief of
Sport Performance Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley.
If there is to be a run-off, it probably won't be held on Sunday, the last
day of the Trials and the date USATF officials previously said they wanted
to finalize the spot. Kersee has already said he is opposed to having a
run-off immediately because the athletes have been through three rounds in
both the 100 and 200 during the Trials.
Felix echoed those sentiments at the press conference, saying, "We're all
a little physically and mentally drained at this point."
My guess is that there won't be a run-off. It could be great theater but
the logistics, the physical demands on the athletes, and the fact they are
teammates make it seem unlikely to me.
I think a coin toss is the most likely scenario, but also think it's
possible that Felix will relinquish her chance at the 100 to focus on the
200 and, possibly, both relay teams. This would be a gracious act, since
Tarmoh did not make it in the 200, and would certainly enhance Felix's
already sterling image.
If Felix did that and went on to win three golds at London, think of the
praise - and endorsements - that would come her way.
As of deadline, no decision had been announced and it appeared that the
whole thing will continue at least one more day.