EUGENE, Ore. — It will be remembered as the most anticipated race never run. The runoff that turned into a walk away to conclude the U.S. track trials.
Jeneba Tarmoh conceded the final Olympic spot in the 100 meters rather than meet training partner Allyson Felix at the starting line to break a third-place tie. She notified USA Track and Field early in the day of her intention to withdraw from the Monday night race, not specifying why she was stepping aside.
In an email sent through her agent to USATF, Tarmoh said: “I understand that with this decision I am no longer running the 100m dash in the Olympic Games and will be an alternate for the event.”
The unique race was scheduled to be shown in prime time on NBC in conjunction with the network’s coverage of the swimming trials. It would’ve been a boon for track. Now, it’s another blow for a sport that’s taken its fair share of late.
“This could’ve been something exciting for the sport, something new, something different,” said Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, whose husband, Bobby, coaches both sprinters. “It would bring people in that don’t ordinarily watch. Reality at its best. This is reality. You’ve got everything — emotion, drama.
“But you don’t have a cast.”
And without a cast, track’s moment in the spotlight fizzled.
“It is very frustrating for me, for someone who would like more people watching sport our sport on a regular basis,” NBC sprints analyst Ato Boldon said. “That anytime you hear a track and field story, it’s going to have a clumsy, awkward, or cringe-worthy ending.”
Tarmoh, who felt all along she had won the race on June 23, did not give any reasons why she was surrendering a chance to possibly run the 100 in London. USATF President Stephanie Hightower said the organization was “disappointed” Tarmoh had a change of heart.
The controversy in the 100 overshadowed the entire trials because USATF had no protocol in place to deal with a dead heat. And while top officials scrambled to draft a tiebreaking procedure, the athletes didn’t want to talk about it until after the conclusion of the 200 — nearly a week later.
The tiebreak also didn’t exactly address this particular situation — an athlete commits to racing and decides not to at the last minute. The matter, however, was resolved once Tarmoh stepped aside.
“Maybe Jeneba Tarmoh went to sleep last night, or woke up this morning, and said, ‘You know what? I know that after six rounds in the cold and rain of Eugene, and the emotional highs and lows, and the meetings and the pressure to make a decision and hiding from the media, I don’t have it in my legs tonight to go out and give a good account of myself,'” Boldon said. “Olympic athletes have to be very selfish. If Jeneba felt like she was going out (Monday) to get blown away on national TV or get injured because she’s still feeling the rounds in legs, she’s doing the right thing.”
Felix said Sunday that she would allow her health to make the final decision on whether she would run. If she warmed up and didn’t feel right, that’s it, she was going to pull out of the competition. She wasn’t about to risk anything this close to London.
One of the faces of track, Felix will now race in both the 100 and 200 in London. She is the favorite to win her signature event, the 200, after winning silver medals in the last two Olympics.
Although Tarmoh didn’t qualify in the 200, she’s eligible to run in the Olympic 400-meter relay.
“The situation has been difficult for everyone involved,” Felix said in a statement. “I had accepted the USATF decision and was prepared to run at 5 p.m. I wanted to earn my spot on this team and not have it conceded to me so I share in everyone’s disappointment that this runoff will not happen. All I can do now is turn my focus to London.”
Tarmoh only reluctantly agreed to the runoff. She believed she won on the track fair and square nine days ago.
“In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot,” she said Sunday. “I almost feel like I was kind of robbed.”
The situation has been a debacle since Felix and Tarmoh crossed the line in 11.068 seconds.
Tarmoh leaned across the finish line and looked up to see her name on the scoreboard in the third spot behind winner Carmelita Jeter and runner-up Tianna Madison. The 22-year-old Tarmoh even took a celebratory lap around the track, waving an American flag. She received a medal and held a news conference.
Then she found out about the dead heat from reporters.
The options USATF presented to settle the tie were a runoff, coin flip or one athlete conceding the spot to the other.
The athletes and their agents met with USATF representatives Sunday, and Felix and Tarmoh chose to settle matters on the track. Tarmoh, however, was clearly unhappy with the choice.
“This decision was really hard for me to make,” Tarmoh said. “I was pushed into a corner. They said if you don’t make a decision, you give your spot up. I work too hard to just give my spot up. I had to say it was a runoff.”