London 2012: Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh Runoff Would Be Great for USA Track
The recent dead-heat controversy at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in the women's 100-meter finals has generated a ton of commentary—mostly negative.
But along with the black cloud hanging over the whole mess, there may be a silver lining.
The confusing issue—and probable on-track resolution—might kindle thoughts from track's golden years and provide USA Track & Field (USATF), its governing body, a way to save face.
A good old-fashioned match race or two—at any distance—would be good for the sport during those long, non-Olympic years.
But first, a quick review.
When training partners Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh crossed the line in a photo-finish tie for the third and final Olympic berth, state-of-the-art timing equipment was inadequate to separate the two.
The rarity of such an occurrence exposed a clumsy deficiency on the part of the USATF. There was simply no policy in place to fairly settle the matter of a "perfect tie."
After much deliberation, the USATF came up with a complicated procedure to resolve the issue. In a nutshell, short of a downright concession by either Felix or Tarmoh, it will be a coin toss or a runoff.
Even that decision has now been put off until after the women's 200 final on Saturday, since both runners will be competing in that race and don't need the distraction.
A runoff, before the trial's conclusion, seems to be the most probable option. If that happens, here's where things get interesting.
Apart from the risk of injury and the extra expended energy on the part of Felix and Tarmoh, can you imagine the interest generated in that little footrace?
Just the two of them, probably in lanes three and five, with an Olympic berth waiting for the winner at the finish line. What a finale it would be to an Olympic trials already overflowing with highlights.
Are the wheels turning? Don't think they won't be turning in the minds of promoters and meet organizers in high places.
From Pat Graham of the Associated Press, quoting former sprint great Maurice Greene:
[Greene] has a solution—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?"
Although Greene's scenario would present a few glitches on such short notice, and it may not work in future Olympic years, when elite athletes are seemingly walking on eggshells to avoid injury, I like the way he's thinking.
Such an event would be a payday for the athletes involved, the venue willing to host it and, of course, the promoter.
The publicity and interest in the sport itself would be priceless.
And as Greene suggests—to maintain the integrity of the sport—only the one event. No carnival-atmosphere sideshows.
What happens after Saturday's 200-meter final?
The idea of a two-person runoff is not a new one. Match races were much more common during track and field's heyday in the 20th century
Many longtime track fans may remember the 1997 race between Michael Johnson and Donovan Bailey at 150 meters. That contest totally fizzled when Johnson pulled up limping about mid-race.
Even though the pre-race publicity and TV ratings were off the charts, perhaps it's the memory of that bust that has stifled the concept since.
Maybe it's time to resurrect the idea.
If Felix and Tarmoh do go head-to-head in a Sunday afternoon runoff, tell me you won't be watching.
Then tell me there shouldn't be more races like that in the future.
UPDATE: July 2, 2012 - Tarmoh has officially conceded. There will be no runoff and Felix will occupy the third spot on the women's 100-meter team.
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