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Saturday, June 30, 2012
A great 200, but 100 cloud still looms

By Jim Caple

EUGENE, Ore. -- With the 200-meter run behind them Saturday evening, training partners Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh planned to sit down and talk about how to best settle their week-old tie in the 100 meters and decide who will run the race at the London Olympics.

As a friend said, it's such a civilized way of settling the issue. Just imagine if other sports took this approach.

For instance, rather than play a possible overtime in the AFC East championship game, the NFL can just have, say, Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin sit down over drinks to decide who is going on to the Super Bowl. It may lack the drama of sudden death, but PBS would be a natural for the broadcast rights.

Charlie Rose: Talk about your feelings regarding this tiebreaker situation. Do you think it's fair?

Ryan: @#&$%!!!

How should the tiebreaker be decided? After winning the 200 in a personal-best 21.69 -- the sixth-fastest time in history -- Felix declined to state a preference. "That's what the meeting will be about," she said.

"Allyson and I haven't even talked about the 100. We've just been focusing solely on the 200," Tarmoh said after finishing fifth in the 200. "We're going to leave that up to our coaches and ask our agents and we'll come to a conclusion."

Well, there you go. How better to decide an Olympic spot than to get agents involved?

This is the entire problem with USA Track and Field's hastily crafted tiebreaking procedure. The athletes should not get to decide how to settle a tie, be it by voluntary withdrawal, runoff coin flip or penalty kick. The rules should be as hard and fast as the Olympic trials themselves. When there is a tie, it is immediately resolved by specific, hard and fast rules. There is no room for discussion. The decision-making burden is not placed on the athletes. The decision-making process does not become open to possible outside influences and agendas. And it definitely does not drag out for an entire week.

A decision must be made by Monday, but both runners indicated they do not favor a runoff Sunday.

"I think anybody who would have to compete [Sunday], it would be tough," Felix said. "We just went through rounds of 200, we did the 100. We're all a little physically and emotionally drained at this point."

Tarmoh, meanwhile, said she would choose whatever is easier on the body. "So if it was today, I'd say coin toss."

But flipping a coin is a very bad tiebreaker. Coin tosses are for starting athletic contests, not ending them.

"It's mine and her decision, it's nobody else's to make," Tarmoh said. "It's between us."

No, it shouldn't be their decision. There should be a runoff, just as there are swimoffs in swimming. Granted, running may take more of a toll on a body than swimming, but an Olympian should be able to handle it.

The one good thing about the controversy is it kept women's running in the news and heightened attention on Saturday's 200 race, in which seven of this year's fastest times in the event were represented on the starting line.

"When we came in today, everybody could feel the excitement and the buzz about the women's 200 and I was excited to be a part of that," said 400-meter winner Sanya Richards-Ross, who qualified in the 200 by finishing third in 22.22. "I felt like I could finish anywhere from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 -- you could have run anywhere today. That's the type of race you want to be a part of. It's exciting, to say the least, to come through that and be one of the women on the team."

"I was in Lane 8, so I was just running for my life," said 100 winner Carmelita Jeter, who finished second in 22.11. "I was just trying to get to that finish line."

"I think it was great that the 200 had all this talent, all this competition," said Felix, who broke the meet record of 21.77 held by Florence Griffith-Joyner. "The 200 usually takes a backseat to the 100, so it was cool to see so many people step up and for it to be such an exciting race."

Felix said she wasn't distracted by the 100 controversy, and her race made that clear. Running in Lane 6, she had a commanding lead coming around the curve, which, she said, "is very rare." And she kept the lead the rest of the way.

"My coach, Bobby Kersee, did a great job of not letting it get to us," Felix said. "He kept us from you guys. I missed you guys the last couple days, but that was all his orders to keep us focused."

So Felix is guaranteed her spot in the 200. She and Tarmoh will go to London in the relay team pool. As for the 100 decision, Tarmoh said she just wants it to be over with. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Hopefully, because that would help against the Jamaicans in London.

And, in the meantime, baseball can consider replacing Game 7 of the World Series with a conference call.