100 runoff will be quite the scene

EUGENE, Ore. -- The Allyson Felix-Jeneba Tarmoh 100-meter runoff could be the first sporting event in history in which the national anthem (if it's even played) lasts far longer than the one and only athletic competition.

I mean, when do you cut off beer sales for a race that ends in less than 11 seconds? After 70 meters?

Then again, the runoff also will mark the longest 100 in history. By the time the runners cross the finish line shortly after its 5 p.m. PT start, this normally 11-second race will have taken 215 hours to complete.

Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Jeneba Tarmoh, left, and Allyson Felix finished in a dead heat for third place in the women's 100 meters on June 23.

Barring another dead heat, of course.

It could be an odd scene. Security guards and meet officials will prepare the stadium. Fans will gather. The two athletes will arrive, warm up and take their places in the starting blocks. The national television cameras will focus their lenses. The media and fans will lean forward for a good view. The starter's pistol will fire. And then, in about 11 seconds, it will all be over, and everyone will go home.

That is, if the runners actually race. Felix told the Associated Press that if her body didn't feel right in the blocks, she wouldn't risk injury by running. "We're both not feeling our greatest."

Tarmoh isn't excited about the runoff, either, telling AP, "In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot. I almost feel like I was kind of robbed."

If that's what they say now, just imagine how the loser will feel after the runoff.

The 100-meter race was originally held June 23, when Tarmoh was initially listed as the third-place finisher behind Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Madison. While Tarmoh ran a victory lap around the track, Felix talked to reporters about her tremendous disappointment in finishing fourth. But then a review of the photos at the finish line showed a dead heat for third at 11.068. Because USA Track and Field did not have a tiebreaker procedure in place, it hastily wrote up a policy that left the decision for settling the tie -- a coin flip, runoff or voluntary withdrawal -- up to the athletes.

Nothing was decided until after the two athletes ran the 200 final this past Saturday. The runners discussed the tiebreaker for about two hours early Sunday afternoon, along with their coach, Bobby Kersee, their agents (Kim Holland and Wes Felix), USATF president Stephanie Hightower and CEO Max Siegel, plus Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Eventually, they settled on the runoff, although they weren't happy about it.

"I was pushed into a corner," Tarmoh told the AP. "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."

USA Track isn't thrilled about it, either, Hightower said, but "the inevitable issue here is there was a dead-heat tie, and we had to find a resolution."

Hightower can appreciate the runners' feelings. She didn't compete in the 1980 Olympics due to the U.S. boycott, then missed the 1984 Olympics when she finished fourth in a virtual four-way tie at the 1984 trials.

"Don't get me wrong -- we would not want a runoff if we didn't have to have a runoff, but it is what it is," Hightower said. "We did extensive research in other sports and other industries, and we found that in swimming, in particular, they do a runoff and it's in conjunction with the athletes and coaches. If you look at the IAAF rules, it's to draw by lot, but there wasn't a procedure in place for it [here].

"We did extensive research, and at the end of the day, as I expressed to our athletes, if anyone has an appreciation for the work we did and the efforts to maintain a level integrity and transparency with this process, it's me, based upon the way things were handled with me 28 years ago."

And to think, all this fuss over determining which of two training partners will be the third-place entrant for an Olympic race and won't be favored to win, if even medal. They also are already guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team -- Tarmoh as part of the relay pool and Felix in the 200 and relay pool.

Asked what USA Track and Field has learned from this saga, USA Track and Field spokeswoman Jill Geer said, "To have all of your procedures in place. Obviously, it's difficult to explain why something wasn't in place for an event that had never occurred before, but to have thought of every scenario and have those rules and procedures be clear to everyone involved is the most important thing for sure."

She paused, then added: "And that there is very little room for error in 100 meters."

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