In what was supposed to be a 100-meter race unlike any other, there were no winners crowned Monday at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. In fact, there wasn’t even a race.
Sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh pulled out of the much-anticipated runoff with Allyson Felix, one day after agreeing to the unprecedented tie-breaker procedure. In the women’s 100 meter finals at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, the two had crossed the finish line at the same time — 11.068 seconds — and had been locked in a third-place dead heat tie for eight days.
Tarmoh called Felix Sunday night to concede the position. On Monday morning, she e-mailed USA Track and Field to inform the sport’s governing body of her decision, dealing another blow to an organization already reeling from the week-long controversy.
“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,” Tarmoh wrote, according to a copy of the e-mail supplied by the USATF.
In addition to being an alternate, Tarmoh is still in the relay pool and could be a part of the 4x100 team in at the Olympics in London. Felix had already earned her way to the Summer Games, winning the women’s 200 meters Saturday, and now will represent the United States in both sprint races.
“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,” Felix said in a statement. “All I can do now is turn my focus to London.”
In the 100 final on June 23, Tarmoh and Felix crossed the finish line together after first-place finisher Carmelita Jeter and runner-up Tianna Madison. Tarmoh, 22, was initially announced as the third-place finisher. She took a victory lap around Hayward Field, alongside Jeter and Madison, and appeared at a post-race news conference to discuss her first trip to the Olympics. That’s where she was informed by reporters that the race’s finish was in question.
Days later, even after photos revealed a dead-heat tie, Tarmoh apparently had trouble relinquishing her third-place finish. “In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot,” she told the Associated Press Sunday. “I almost feel like I was kind of robbed.”
The USATF was roundly criticized for not having proper protocols in place to break such a tie. Officials took nearly 24 hours to write the new procedures — essentially allowing the runners to chose between a runoff or a coin-flip — but Felix and Tarmoh agreed to table a decision until the conclusion of the women’s 200.
The sprinters met Saturday night and again Sunday to hammer out a resolution. After more than two hours of discussions Sunday afternoon, USATF announced that both runners agreed to a runoff, which had never before been used to determine an Olympic spot.
“A lot of folks criticized us for not having a process in place,” USATF president Stephanie Hightower said Sunday, “but I’m proud to say that based upon the work of a comprehensive group of people, we put a process in place that we think was first and foremost in the best interest of the athletes.”
NBC was on board to broadcast the event live, and for a moment, track and field had found the Olympic spotlight.
But word began to spread late Sunday that Tarmoh was having second thoughts.
“This decision was really hard for me to make,” she said of the runoff. “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.”
Later that night, she had apparently had a change of heart.
“We are disappointed that Jeneba has changed her mind regarding her position on the Olympic Team,” Hightower said in a statement. “We all worked hard to reach a consensus on the tiebreaker, but we know that Allyson, Carmelita and Tianna will represent Team USA well.”
USATF officials initially had hoped to have a resolution by the conclusion of the trials on Sunday evening, so they could forward the names of the men’s and women’s track teams to the United States Olympic Committee on Monday. Both runners said they were exhausted following the 200, though, and Jill Geer, a USATF spokeswoman, said it was more “practical” to stage the race Monday, allowing each runner nearly 48 hours of rest before putting them back in the starting blocks.
“The only thing worse than waiting too long to have a runoff is having it too soon and having one of your star athletes get injured,” Geer said. “That would’ve been a worst-case scenario.”