Tie incident embarrassing for USATF

Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a dead heat at the Olympic trials for the last U.S. spot in the London Games, each finishing in 11.068 seconds in the 100 meters Saturday. Since USA Track and Field did not have a plan in place for this scenario, will it diminish the fairness of the outcome?

End result won't lack fairness

By Graham Hays

Not having a plan in place to handle a tie for the final Olympic spot creates a public relations mess for USA Track and Field and makes the governing body look amateur in all the wrong ways for its lack of foresight. But those superficial wounds shouldn't be confused with anything that diminishes the fairness of the eventual outcome for Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh, if only because absolute fairness frequently falls victim to the need for an outcome.

Whether it's penalty kicks in soccer, shootouts in hockey, various forms of overtime in football or tennis matches that last for days, sports often fill an outside need for a winner and a loser by artificial means when the fair outcome is a draw. Felix and Tarmoh ran 100 meters in 11.068 seconds. It's likely one of them ran slightly faster than the other, but the scale of timing and number of decimal places needed to figure out which one would remove the answer from any human context, and the human context is sort of the whole reason for competition in the first place. They raced; they tied.

The situation would be no more or less fair if the tiebreaker had been on the books for a century, rather than the ad hoc option of a coin flip or a runoff announced Sunday. But because one independent entity, the race, is the servant of another independent entity, Olympic selection, someone has to finish third and someone has to finish fourth. It would have been nice if both runners, not to mention the rest of us, hadn't been forced to wait 24 hours while USA Track and Field made up an answer on how to do that, but the end result doesn't lack for fairness.

At least no more than we regularly accept in pretending ties don't happen.

Loser will feel slighted

By Jane McManus

Are there any tiebreaks that make a sports fan feel like justice has been served? There is probably an unsatisfying element to them all, but not quite as awful as the tie that precipitated them.

Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh were given the choice of a runoff or a coin flip in a hastily designed tiebreak after they finished tied for third. It isn't perfect, and the stakes are so high -- a trip to the London Olympics versus the designation as alternate -- that the loser will no doubt feel the process was unfair.

It is unfortunate, but there has to be some way to determine who gets the honor of representing the U.S. I'd say each sport might want to determine its own tiebreaker scenario in case a similar situation occurs but, then again, they all desire the satisfaction of a competition settled at the buzzer.

Runoff is only fair solution

By Sarah Spain

The concept of two sprinters running the exact same time, right down to the hundredth of a second, is almost unfathomable. Somehow the fabric of one runner's singlet would have to cross the line first, right? Not on Saturday. Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh were so in sync even a two-camera photo finish couldn't determine a front-runner. As unlikely a scenario as it may be, USA Track and Field should have had a plan in place when faced with a tie, particularly when the difference between third and fourth means an Olympic berth. They bungled the results, giving Tarmoh the edge before consulting a second camera and declaring it a tie. It wasn't fair to take away the Olympic nod after Tarmoh believed she'd won it, but it would have been equally as unfair to deny Felix a spot she had earned.

USATF has since decided that the winner of the third and final spot on the Olympic 100-meter team will be chosen by either a runoff or a coin toss; the two competitors will make the call. Both Felix and Tarmoh have to run the 200 meters before they can begin to think about a 100-meter runoff, but I think that has to be the option they choose. Who could ever wish for their Olympic fate to be taken out of their hands (or feet, in this case) and put into the flip of a coin? Only a runoff would give both athletes peace of mind -- they will either win or lose their spot, fair and square. And whatever the result, it will be just that: fair.

Randomness of tiebreaker unfair

By Kate Fagan

I'm baffled that USA Track and Field didn't have a tiebreaker in place. Would the NBA not have a plan if two teams finished the regular season 41-41? This controversy makes USATF seem amateur, especially considering that a spot on the Olympic team is at stake. And the decree handed down by officials yesterday -- that each athlete would vote on whether to have a runoff or a coin flip -- certainly does not help.

Why should the athletes have input on the tiebreaker? Just put something (preferably fair and reasonable) on paper and execute the tiebreaker accordingly. Asking for Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh's vote makes this whole thing even more like an episode of "American Idol."

Since both athletes will more than likely make the team in other events, USATF is saved from ridiculous amounts of emotional drama, but the situation still feels unfair. Both Felix and Tarmoh have meticulously prepared for each of their events. What they have not prepared for is a random head-to-head runoff for the third spot on the Olympic team. That throws a wrench into all of their preparation across events.

Coin flip would be truly unfair

By Amanda Rykoff

The first issue I saw in connection with the tie for third place between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh wasn't one of fairness, but one of surprise and bewilderment that USA Track and Field didn't have a tiebreak plan in place. A sports organization should have a procedure in place to break ties. This is a simple concept to me. The NFL has had a tiebreak system that takes many factors into account before finally settling on the coin flip as a last resort.

That said, the tiebreak plan USATF announced Sunday -- that third place would be determined by a runoff or coin flip -- seems problematic. I don't think it's fair to the athletes to have to determine what method of tiebreak will be used. USATF should have made a determination either way -- a runoff or a coin flip -- and not leave it to Felix and Tarmoh. The process they came up with this weekend is also confusing. I know they had to come up with something quickly, but the if/thens require a flow chart. The bottom line is that in the event that neither athlete selects a tiebreak method, it will come down to the 50/50 chance of a coin flip. It shouldn't matter that both Felix and Tarmoh likely will both make the team and will be able to compete in London. A coin flip should only be the tiebreak means of last resort.

If my Olympic dreams rested on whether a coin landed on heads or tails, I don't know how I'd console myself if it came up the wrong side. The coin-flip tiebreak method is unfair to the athletes and to the hard work they've put in. If it can't be settled via other tiebreak means (head-to-head record at previous events, for example), at least let them settle it on the track.

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