Monday, July 2, 2012

Jeneba Tarmoh withdraws from 100-meter run-off

The nine-day drama surrounding Allyson Felix's and Jeneba Tarmoh's 100-meter dash dead heat at the U.S. Olympic Trials has come to a surprisingly early end after Tarmoh withdrew Monday from a scheduled run-off.

In a statement issued Monday, U.S. Track and Field confirmed that Tarmoh had sent them an email declining her place in the run-off and conceding the final 100-meter qualification spot to Felix.

“I Jeneba Tarmoh have decided to decline my 3rd place position in the 100m dash to Allyson Felix," the email read. "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.

"As an alternate I understand that I will be asked to run if another 100m runner decides not to for personal reasons, and/or on the 4x100m relay.”

According to a statement made by Tarmoh's agent to NBC earlier Monday, her concession from the run-off does not in fact mean she has abandoned her hopes of running the 100 in London, though it is unclear how she might still stake her claim. An appeal to the U.S. Olympic Committe or even legal action could be forthcoming.

"The situation has been difficult for everyone involved," Felix said in a statement. "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.”

The run-off had been scheduled for Monday evening with the agreement of all involved parties, and would have been broadcast live by NBC, becoming potentially the the most-talked event in American track since Beijing. But Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden reported that as of Sunday night, Jarmoh had changed her mind and had told USATF officials -- who were asking her to reconsider -- that she would not participate.

Layden reported that the 22-year-old Tarmoh had been left "exhausted" by the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the dead heat, and embittered by what she sees as unfair treatment by the USATF.

"In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot. I almost feel like I was kind of robbed," she told the Associated Press after Sunday's run-off announcement. "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."

Tarmoh's high school coach, Steve Nelson, told the San Jose Mercury-News that she feels the USATF has given Felix favorable treatment at the behest of its corporate partners.

"This is a Nike and NBC Sports deal," Nelson said. "This is Jeneba against the world. She feels like it's everybody against her."

"We want the same rules followed now as they have in previous years," Nelson added, suggesting that Tarmoh's chest crossed the line ahead of Felix's, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. "Why should rules change now because Allyson Felix is great?"

Although Felix competed in the 200-meter dash in both Athens and Beijing and won a gold medal as part of the U.S. 4x100 relay team in 2008, this would be her first Olympic qualification in the 100. Tarmoh has never been to the Olympics, no doubt making the USATF back-and-forth even more difficult to swallow.

Per Layden, photo finish judge Roger Jennings named Tarmoh the third-place finisher by .001 seconds immediately following the June 23 100-meter final, but just as immediately asked USATF officials to review that decision. While USATF considered (and eventually approved) an overrule of Jennings' decision, Tarmoh conducted the traditional victory lap and postrace interviews as the third-place finisher and first-time Olympic qualifier.

So we don't blame Tarmoh a bit for being unhappy with that spot -- and that joy -- being snatched away after the fact, and she has even more reason than most to be angry with USATF's failure to have a protocol in place ahead of time to deal with the situation.

But in the end, USATF's hands are tied (pun intended). When even the now-famous 3,000-frames-per-second finish line photo can't separate the two, simply declaring one or the other the victor (or defaulting to Jennings' hasty decision) wouldn't have been any more fair to Felix than what's happened to Tarmoh was to her.

So why withdraw? Maybe because it's the only way Tarmoh knew how to protest her treatment, the only bargaining chip she'd felt she'd been left with in her "corner"--losing the run-off is undeniably a substantial blow to both NBC and the USATF, who again are left scrambling after nearly seeing their week of Trials coverage conclude in the most dramatic (and TV-friendly) fashion possible.

But the bottom line -- whatever the merit (or lack of) to Tarmoh's grievances -- is that, barring some bureaucratic stunner, Tarmoh has willingly given up a dream she has worked years upon years for without a fight. She has abandoned a place in one of the Olympics' most glamorous events without even attempting to win it back. It's a decision we worry she may come to regret sooner rather than later.

By Jerry Hinnen |