It took eleven seconds for Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh to cross the finish line in the 100-meter finals on Saturday and 24 hours for meet officials to respond to the unprecedented race finish.
Felix and Tarmoh tied for third place — the final spot on the Olympic team. The dead heat was so rare that a tiebreaker had never been established, even in the event’s long history.
On Sunday evening, USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer announced the new procedure for breaking a third-place tie in the 100 and any running event in the future for which a U.S. national or Olympic team is selected.
Unless one athlete declines her position, the runners will decide between a run-off and a coin toss.
If they can’t come to an agreement, a run-off will occur. If they don’t have a preference? A coin toss.
Either way, the decision must be made and a team finalized by the end of the trials on Sunday, July 1.
Former world champion Felix and her lesser-known training partner Tarmoh were notified of the new tie-breaking process on Sunday, Geer said. Officials will work with the two and their coach, Bobby Kersee, to decide what’s next.
But Felix and Tarmoh can’t get caught up in the tiebreaker just yet, as they have another race, the 200, coming up Thursday. Felix is a three-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the event; Tarmoh placed third in it at the 2011 U.S. Championships.
The weekend’s debacle threw the two into an emotional waiting game and left onlookers wondering how it could have occurred in the first place.
The immediate, unofficial results showed Tarmoh as the third place finisher, behind Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Madison. Felix, who was trying the 100-200 double, instead of a 200-400, for the first time on the big stage, tried to come to terms with the defeat.
“It hurts,” she said minutes after the race, battling tears. “I definitely feel God has a bigger plan. We always make plans and think we know best. And sometimes it’s just not the case.
“That’s my teammate who got third. I’m happy for her.”
Meanwhile, timers and referees jumped to review the close finish, studying photos shot at 3,000 frames per second. They looked to determine which runner’s torso crossed first, but found that impossible. It was a dead heat, officials declared. Both runners clocked 11.068.
USATF workers and representatives of the Olympic track and field community scrambled to come up with a resolution and get the stamp of approval from the United States Olympic Committee.
Included in the new tie-breaking procedure was one final note: “If the run-off also results in a dead heat, the tie will be broken by a coin toss.”