NPR Story
5:36 am
Tue July 3, 2012

100 Meter Runoff Canceled, Tarmoh Pulls Out Of Race

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials soared to a start last month in Eugene, Oregon, with a world record in the decathlon. Yesterday, the trials limped to a controversial end. A planned 100 meter run-off was canceled between sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh after Tarmoh decided not to race.

The two tied for third place in the women's 100. Then, a drawn-out and what many considered clumsy attempt to break the tie hung over the trials and never really went away. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us for an update.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the run-off promised some drama, a prime-time, nationally-televised bump for the sport of track and field, a resolution to the controversy. Why didn't it happen?

GOLDMAN: Well, the quick answer is 22-year-old Jeneba Tarmoh withdrew. Her agent sent an email to USA Track and Field announcing in somewhat legal sounding language, that Tarmoh was giving up the third place spot - and that's an Olympic team position - in the 100 meters to Allyson Felix. There was no mention of why. That came later Monday in a couple of interviews in which Tarmoh talked about how her heart wasn't in the race and how she felt robbed of what she thought was her valid third place finish.

WERTHEIMER: She had a point, didn't she? I mean, after the race, the scoreboard at Hayward Field in Eugene listed her in third, fractions of a second ahead of Felix?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely, and she took a victory lap because of that and sat happily in a press conference next to the 100 meters winner Carmelita Jeter. And she answered questions about how it felt to beat Felix to earn a spot on the Olympic team. And here's what Tarmoh said.

JENEBA TARMOH: I'm still speechless and in shock about the whole situation. But I'm so excited to be on this Olympic team. And all the hard work really paid off for the both of us.

GOLDMAN: And, of course, Linda, not long after, she was told there'd been a ruling of a dead heat for third place.

WERTHEIMER: Can you explain how that race did become a tie?

GOLDMAN: The chief photo finish judge at the meet, a guy named Roger Jennings, is considered the best at what he does. And he says he initially named Tarmoh as the third place finisher because he was using an educated guess on her torso position. It's the torso that they mark over the finish line.

Tarmoh's torso was blocked by her head and arm in the photo that Jennings checked. He then extrapolated and believed her torso beat Felix's torso. But because third place in the trials is so important, it's the difference between making the Olympic team or not, Jennings questioned his own call and asked for help from meet referees.

They all looked, decided the visual evidence - not Jennings educated guess - showed that it was a tie. Now, Jennings told Sports Illustrated that he signed off on the final decision, but he says he did his job. He called what he saw. And if he went back and read the photo 100 times, he'd call it the same way every time.

WERTHEIMER: Which presumably would give Tarmoh some ammunition if she wants to pursue legal action?

GOLDMAN: Sure, it possibly could. But she told the Associated Press yesterday she plans no legal action at all in order to get a spot on the 100 meters Olympic team. We'll see if that holds.

WERTHEIMER: Who do we blame for this mess, Tom?

GOLDMAN: Certainly track's governing body - USA Track and Field. They didn't have a tiebreaking plan in place. And after they hastily came up with a plan, it left the decision on how to break the tie up to the athletes, which many thought was unfair.

The coach for both runners - Bobby Kersee - was adamant that his athletes, who are training partners as well, that they not deal with the controversy until the end of the trials. And that helped it drag along.

And then, Jeneba Tarmoh herself. She's young, relatively inexperienced. Ultimately it seemed she was unable to handle the emotional upheaval of the controversy, to put it aside and focus on one more 100 meter sprint down the track.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

WERTHEIMER: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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