EUGENE, Ore. — Justin Gatlin would pick a runoff, reluctantly. So would Maurice Greene, who would do a coin toss as a last resort.
Everybody has an opinion – even Olympic gold medalists – about USA Track and Field’s hastily unveiled options for breaking a third-place tie between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh, who finished in a dead heat in the 100-meter final at last weekend’s Olympic trials.
On Tuesday, three days after they raced, USATF still has no idea when it will be resolved.
The sprinters have until Sunday, when the trials end, to decide if they want a runoff – a winner-take-all race to break the tie – or a flip of a coin to determine who gets the last spot on the London-bound team. One of them can simply bow out, too.
“I honestly can’t tell you why a protocol wasn’t in place,” USATF President Stephanie Hightower said. “No one ever thought through it. The likelihood of it happening didn’t cross anybody’s minds.”
Surprising, since this has happened before – to Hightower, no less. At the 1984 Olympic trials, she finished in a three-way tie for second place in the hurdles. A grainy photo was used to break the tie and she was the odd person out, failing to earn a spot.
“There’s no question that everyone was caught off guard,” Hightower said. “At least this gives us the motivation to look at our bylaws and competition rules to see if there are any other gaping holes we need to shore up before the next big championship or Olympic trials.”
That doesn’t exactly help Felix and Tarmoh now. They will compete in the 200 meters and after Saturday’s final, if both make it, decide what to do next. The trials went on a two-day break Tuesday and will resume Thursday.
So far, the women have been pretty much mum on the matter. Their teammates have not.
“As an athlete, this worries me,” said Gatlin, who won the 100 last weekend, but will skip the 200. “Because no one knew about this loophole in the system.
“To run the 100-meter final at the Olympic trials and for it to be decided on a coin toss? It blows my mind.”
So does a runoff.
“Your coach trains you for three rounds, for six rounds if you run the 100 and 200, and not an extra round. That’s looked at as more of a sideshow,” Gatlin said. “These ladies should have the respect for someone to say to them, ‘Hey, you know what? There should’ve been a better (system) in place.’”
If left to Greene, an Olympic gold medalist in 2000, he would pick runoff. Maybe.
“That’s why you have a coach,” he said. “If he said (coin flip), I would have to do that.”
As it is, both are eligible to be selected to the 400-meter relay team.
There has been some scuttle that perhaps Felix is waiting to see how she fares in her signature event, the 200, before reaching any decision. Should she earn a spot in the 200 and Tarmoh doesn’t, Felix might just surrender the 100 spot to her training partner.
“It’s noble, but I’m not giving anything up,” Greene said. “I fight for everything. Nothing in life is given to you. You have to take everything you want and you have to work for it.”
He has a solution <0x2014> a made-for-TV special. No other events, just these two women on the track.
“Tell NBC to give them $2 million and have a runoff,” Greene said. “Then they’ll do it for sure. If they have a runoff, do you realize how much money there’s going to be.”
Maybe that would work if they weren’t already coming off a grueling competition schedule. Bob Kersee, who coaches them both, is concerned about the possibility of injury, since there’s really no rest for either athlete.
The Olympics, after all, are on the line.
“You’ve come this far. I would gut it out,” Gatlin said. “I would run. ... It would bring more excitement to track and field, to have a runoff.”
In every other sport, there’s some sort of carefully spelled-out tiebreaker in place.
In swimming, deadlocks are settled with swim-offs between the two opponents.
Gymnastics released its revamped tiebreak procedures so it doesn’t have a repeat of the debacle in Beijing, where it practically took a NASA physicist to decipher the complicated formula that settled the gold medal on uneven bars. Now the execution mark will be the big deciding factor, and there is the possibility of sharing medals.
Odds of that happening are rare.
Still, it’s a plan.
“You’re always going to have your haters and your critics,” Hightower said. “That goes with the territory. I think we’ve been responsible, responsive and we’ve been thoughtful. If this is a way to educate people about our sport, I’ll take good with bad.”
In a society that craves everything in an instant, the 100 is the ideal race.
Sprinters blaze down the track, lean at the finish line and look up at the giant scoreboard, where the times and places instantly pop up.
Even high-tech cameras couldn’t break Saturday night’s dead heat in a sport that’s long relied on technology. Unlike baseball, which is slowly turning to video replay, track uses images to help sort things out.
But in this case, the image from the outside camera was inconclusive for determining the finish because both runners’ arms obscured their torsos <0x2014> a key consideration in determining the finish.
The image from the inside camera, shot at 3,000 frames per second, was analyzed by timers and referees, who declared the tie.
“We might even look at where we put cameras in the future,” Hightower said. “Now that we’ve had this incident, it will give us the motivation, for us to do our due diligence to look at things.
“I want to make sure that both (Felix and Tarmoh) walk away from this knowing that there was a fair process in place and they had input into it. They can walk away and feel like we haven’t done anything to harm them and their ability long term.”