On the lookout for shiny Eagles over Hayward

EUGENE, Ore. — The way this is most likely going to end up is that Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix are going to have a run-off, probably Sunday, the day after the women’s 200 meters, to decide who gets the third and final spot in the 100 meters on the U.S. team that goes to London.

It’s not a done deal, of course. A jillion things could happen between now and then. But that’s the most probable. After all, it was improbable enough to see a dead heat that ended with both runners timed in 11.068 seconds, and more improbable yet that USA Track & Field didn’t have a process in place to resolve this kind of thing.

So while looking forward, let’s pause to look back and see how it all happened.

And a coin flip — how did a coin flip even remotely come to be part of the deal?

The coin flip has subjected USA Track & Field to relentless ridicule from all quarters, nationally and internationally, and I use the word “quarters” deliberately, because the protocol for the coin flip goes into the most ridiculous, pedantic, obviously overwritten and lawyer-written nonsense imaginable.

To wit:

USATF “shall provide a United States Quarter Dollar coin with the image of George Washington appearing on the obverse hub of the coin and an Eagle appearing on the reverse hub of the coin.”

Note that “Eagle” is capitalized, as if that makes a difference.

It goes on from there, with this insipid ridiculousness: ” … [T]he USATF representative shall bend his or her index finger at a 90 degree angle to his or her thumb, allowing the coin to rest on his or her thumb. In one single action, the USATF representative shall toss the coin into the air, allowing the coin to fall to the ground.”

Really? That’s how you flip a coin?

But we’re not done.

If the quarter with the picture of the first president on one side and the “Eagle” on the other doesn’t land flat, the procedure calls for a do-over.

This is the sort of thing that deserves to be mocked.

But — and this is important — the idea of the coin toss itself does not.

There’s sound reason for it.

The international governing body for track and field, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, has a provision in its rules for breaking ties. You can find it in IAAF Rule 167.

Rule 167 says that ties for the last qualifying position in a given race shall ultimately be broken by the drawing of lots.

That’s right — lots.

And that’s where USATF officials started when deliberations began after it was clear that the cameras, inside and out, had failed to break the tie in the women’s 100.

It’s instructive at this point to note that while we live in a thoroughly technologically advanced society and some of the cameras at issue fire at 3,000 frames per second — this case proves yet again that there’s still no substitute for human decision-making.

Meetings began Saturday about 7 p.m. They lasted for roughly six hours, until about 1 in the morning.

A consensus emerged fairly quickly around the coin-toss — as a better notion than lots — and the run-off. Track officials knew full well that swimmers swam swim-offs on a regular basis.

Even so, a steady thread during the talks that night, and as well Sunday with the U.S. Olympic Committee, was athlete safety.

Discussions with the USOC — which had to sign off on any process — picked up steam Sunday, beginning as early as 7:30 in the morning. Some were on the phone; others, in person; and carried on throughout the day, until USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer made the announcement of the new process late in the afternoon.

The process calls for a coin flip if both athletes agree to it or both refuse to state a preference. Otherwise, it’s a run-off.

So why Sunday?

Because both Tarmoh and Felix are running the 200. And both are coached by Bobby Kersee. He wants them both to get through the 200. The finals in that race go down Saturday.

USATF officials have said they intend fully to name the team before they leave Eugene.

Thus — that leaves Sunday, and only Sunday, for a run-off.

Unless another unusual event happens. Which, given everything else that has happened already, is entirely possible. Maybe a shiny Eagle will appear over Hayward Field, or something.

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