Jeneba Tarmoh's decision not to participate in a 100-meter runoff and instead give up her claim to an Olympic berth raises a simple question.
"Who are you?"
Tarmoh seems content to have the answer to that question continue to be, "Nobody."
So it goes for track and field during its rare chance to command the spotlight. When two athletes tied for an Olympic spot and all eyes were on the usually ignored sport, its officials turned a compelling situation into a confusing one. And now the athletes have made it just embarrassing.
It was absurd that U.S. track organizers had no solution when Tarmoh tied Allyson Felix for third place in the 100-meter final at the Olympic trials. And it seems even more absurd that Tarmoh—the upstart with no previous Olympic experience—would give up what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance for individual Olympic glory. Instead, she is settling for a role on the U.S. relay team.
We eagerly await Tarmoh's explanation. Why would she give up this chance?
If anyone should have given it up, it was Felix, whose focus should be solely on the 200-meter race. She was the United States' top qualifier in that event for these London Games. It is an event in which she has won three world championships but no Olympic gold.
Tarmoh, obviously, isn't a "nobody" in inner-track circles. She was a great high school champion in California and has had a super college record at Texas A&M. She could have a long pro career.
But on the U.S. sports scene and the international track scene, she is an unknown. Or was. Now she's known as a quitter. And soon, at least until the 2016 Olympics, she'll be forgotten.
On Sunday, as USA Today reported, she expressed dismay that she would have to run again for an Olympic berth she thought she'd already earned. Meanwhile, Felix was saying that if she felt uncertain at all about her health, she would be the one dropping out of the runoff (scheduled to be held 8 p.m. EDT at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Monday).
Felix can be a prima donna. Tarmoh has no right.
Why wouldn't Tarmoh stay in and wait for Felix to drop out? What was her rush to misjudgment?
One hopes for satisfying answers. Track fans want to root for their sport, and for Tarmoh and Felix. But for now, we are left asking, "Why?" and "Who?"