EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Reluctantly, Jeneba Tarmoh will step into the blocks Monday to break a third-place tie she feels was already decided fair and square.
The young sprinter wants no part of a runoff with training partner Allyson Felix to settle the last spot for the London Games in the women’s 100 meters.
The runoff — a winner-take-all race — will be held at 5 p.m. local time — 8 p.m. EDT — at Hayward Field. It’s not something Tarmoh is looking forward to.
“In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot. I almost feel like I was kind of robbed,” Tarmoh said.
Tarmoh was originally declared the winner of the event last Saturday, even going on a victory lap around the track, being presented a medal and then showing up at a news conference.
Only after her drug test did she discover the controversy. That race officials had declared a dead heat.
Now, after not making the team in the 200, Tarmoh has to regroup and step up to the starting line, trying to reclaim a spot she believed rightfully belongs to her.
“I’m not that excited at all. This decision was really hard for me to make,” said Tarmoh, who’s eligible to run on the Olympic 400 relay team. “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.”
She’s trying to make the best of a botched situation.
The controversy in the 100 overshadowed the entire trials simply because USA Track and Field had no protocol in place to deal with a dead heat. USATF officials quickly scrambled to adopt a tiebreaking procedure.
The athletes had a choice between a runoff or a coin flip. They chose to settle matters on the track, not with the flip of a quarter.
“They both feel they deserve a spot on the team and they’re willing to do it in a competitive manner and a competitive fashion,” USATF President Stephanie Hightower said. “I think it’s good for the sport and it’s good for them to show their level of competitiveness and passion and drive for what they’ve been working so hard to accomplish.
“The bottom line is that this is, in my opinion, the best way to be able to resolve this issue.”
The resolution was delayed eight days because their coach, Bobby Kersee, wanted to wait to make a decision until after 200 on Saturday. Felix turned in a personal-best time of 21.69 seconds, the fourth-fastest by an American.
But it was lost in the controversy.
“I didn’t get to really enjoy it,” Felix said. “As soon as I came off (the track), that’s the first time that I actually thought about the process. Of course, I wasn’t thinking I wanted to do a coin toss, but that’s the first time I sat down and went through things in my head.
“Once this is over, I’ll be happy about it.”
After two races and six rounds, both will be running with fatigued legs. So much so that Felix said she won’t take any chances. If she steps into the blocks and doesn’t feel right, that’s it, she’s pulling out of the competition. She won’t risk her health with London so close.
“We’re both not feeling our greatest,” Felix said.
For Tarmoh, there’s also an emotional component.
“I went to bed so happy and then I woke up to do something I don’t want to do at all,” Tarmoh said. “If it’s in the best interest of someone’s job or the sport, that’s what I’ll do.”
Tarmoh’s agent, Kim Holland was asked if there might be any sort of legal recourse, should Tarmoh not win the race.
“I’ll have a sidebar conversation with Jeneba and see how she wants to proceed, meaning if it’s really over with the run,” Holland said.
Tarmoh indicated the matter would be concluded with the runoff.
“I wouldn’t want to pursue anything else,” she said. “This has been a long road already.”
As for their friendship, Felix said it hasn’t been affected by the situation. They both train under Kersee and were practicing starts together leading up to the 200.
“There’s never any question about any of that,” Felix said.
But plenty of questions about the parameters of the race. They don’t know what lanes they will line up in or if they will be side-by-side. They will learn how this goes down on the fly — just like this entire drama.
Since Felix had already earned a spot in the 200, there was speculation she might simply concede the 100 to Tarmoh. But Felix said the 100 is vital to her preparation for the 200, where she’s a favorite to win Olympic gold.
“People may wonder, ‘What in the world? Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (of Jamaica) ran 10.70 and you’re nowhere close to that,'” Felix said. “But it’s about making my 200 better and giving it my all.”
The runoff a boon for track and will be shown on NBC in conjunction with the network’s coverage of the swimming trials.
“This will reintroduce people to the sport and showcase world-class athletes and great competition,” newly hired CEO Max Siegel said.
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