Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh are Olympic track and field hopefuls in the women's 100m event. Last night, Tarmoh was initially ruled to have finished ahead of Felix and thus Tarmoh came in third and Felix fourth. It's an important distinction because only three athletes are permitted to represent their country per event. The decision effectively left Felix on the outside looking in. But not for long. Official timer, Roger Jennings, initially made that ruling but almost immediately protested his own decision.
In an interview with Letsrun.com, Jennings detailed the process.
"When I immediately looked at it, I could see their torsos and what I could see visually, it was in essence a dead heat," said Jennings. "But then I looked at the (right) arm position of Tarmoh [number 1] (being ahead of Felix [number 2]) which I felt was a torso coming across ahead of Allyson's Felix's torso. So I called it on the board, unofficially, as lane one Tarmoh ahead of Felix. But I immediately wanted to get a meet referee in there. In essence, I protested it myself. We had four referees come in and look it and we all decided that what we saw visually was a dead heat and at that point we called it a dead heat for third."
Ok, so the call was reversed. No big deal, right? Actually, kind of a big deal, for a couple reasons.
First, Tarmoh (the initial winner) was thrown in front of a podium for a press conference as the third place runner and as having made her first Olympic team. According to Lets Run, this press conference occurred an hour after the race, and well after Jennings had decided to protest his ruling. What's worse, reporters at the press conference had somehow sussed out that the finish for third had been reviewed and called a tie—during the press conference—and asked Tarmoh if she was aware. A safe bet would be "probably not."
Second, there appears to be no plan in place should such an ending occur, according to USATF spokesperson Jill Greer. Let's Run seems to think it may come down to a drawing of lots according to the USATF rules, but there is a question as to whether that rule would apply in this specific instance. According to Bob Kersee, the USATF may be planning a runoff between the two women by Monday.
While the whole ordeal is certainly embarrassing for the USATF—either there is no plan, or the head spokesperson for the organization does not know her own rules—a runoff would be pretty dramatic and a compelling watch even for us non-track and field nuts. Winner goes to the Olympics, and the loser goes home. It would be pure athletic competition stripped to the bone.
Regardless of the decision, whether it's another race or a drawing of straws, it is now clear that while the athletes may no longer technically be amateurs, at least something associated with the Olympics carries on the tradition.
In case of a tie, the following procedure shall be used for breaking a tie for the final qualifying slot in a running-event final in which a U.S. National Team or Olympic Team is being selected:
1. If either athlete declines his or her position on the National Team/Olympic Team, that athlete will be named the alternate and the other athlete will assume the final available position.
2. If neither athlete declines their position, they will be given the option to determine the tie-breaker via coin toss or by run-off.
a. If both athletes choose the same option, that option will be utilized as the tie-breaker.
b. If the athletes disagree on the tie-breaker, the tie will be broken by a run-off.
c. If both athletes refuse to declare a preference regarding the method between a run off and coin toss in regards to how the tie is broken, the tie will be broken by coin toss.
So, likely, there will be a runoff. The two women and their coach will determine the time for the runoff and if that results in a tie
we will all die miserable, lonely deaths the winner will be decided by coin toss.