EUGENE, Ore. -- There's a simple and elegant solution for USA Track & Field as it wrestles with the dilemma posed by the dead heat in the women's 100 meter Saturday between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh. It's right there in the other marquee Summer Games sport, swimming, and it happens all the time.
It's a swim-off.
USATF should put Felix and Tarmoh to a run-off. It's the only fair way to settle this. It's the American way.
Carmelita Jeter won the 100, in 10.92 seconds. Tianna Madison finished second. They're both going to London.
Originally, Tarmoh was declared the third-place finisher and Felix fourth. The official scoring sheet said Tarmoh had edged training partner Felix by 0.0001 seconds. Tarmoh was even brought to a news conference, where she said she was "so thankful" to make the London team.
She also said, however, amid rumblings that something might be going on, "I have no idea what happens if it's a tie."
As that news conference was ending, USATF communications director Jill Geer took to the dais to announce that, in fact, the two runners had ended in a dead heat, both timed in 11.68 seconds.
What happened, Geer said, is that two cameras are used to determine photo finishes. One is on the outside of the track. The other is on the inside.
The outside camera in this race proved inconclusive because both runners' arms obscured their torsos.
The inside camera is shot at 3,000 frames per second. It was analyzed by timers and referees. They simply could not separate the two racers, and declared a tie.
USATF has no procedure in place to break such a tie.
This, let's be candid, is a major flaw.
This is the kind of thing that leads to litigation.
This is the kind of thing that leads to absurdities that the matter be settled with rock, paper, scissors; or the drawing of lots; or dice; or a hand of poker.
It also lends itself to observations that Felix is a three-time world champion who has two Olympic silver medals and the support of major corporate sponsors, while Tarmoh has two NCAA second-place finishes. In the abstract, which of the two do you think those sponsors would like to see pursue her much-publicized double?
Further, it puts enormous, and unfair, pressure on Felix to be magnanimous by stepping aside in favor of Tarmoh and let her rival and training partner take the spot. Doing so might earn Felix considerable public goodwill. But this is the Olympics. The Games come along every four years. Why should Felix, who ran a 10.92 earlier this year in the 100 in Doha, give up a medal shot?
This is why the only fair solution is a run-off.
Don't bother with any noise that Olympic sprinters can't be bothered with running an extra race, that doing so would put an unfair burden on their bodies.
Olympic swimmers do it with regularity.
Just last year, for instance, Josh Schneider and Cullen Jones, SwimMAC club teammates, had a swim-off to determine who would claim the final 50-meter freestyle spot on the 2011 world championships team in Shanghai.
The swim-off was required because they had tied, at 21.97 seconds, at the 2010 nationals. The swim-off was held in May, 2011, in Charlotte, N.C.; Jones finished in 22.24, Schneider in 22.28, and that was that.
Schneider didn't complain afterward, saying of Jones, who won a gold medal swimming with Michael Phelps in the 2008 Beijing 400-meter freestyle relay, "He is a gold medalist for a reason. It's hard to topple a giant like that."
Similarly, in 2009, Jones tied for second with Garrett Weber-Gale (who also swam on that Beijing 400 free relay) in the 50 free, at 21.55. They swam it off two days later to see who would swim in Rome at those Rome world championships. Jones swam 21.41 to break Weber-Gale's American record, 21.47. In Rome, Jones finished fifth, the top American in the event.
In December, 2010, meanwhile, at the world short-course championships in Dubai, Schneider's semifinal time of 21.29 tied him with Australia's Kyle Richardson for eighth place. At the end of the session, the two guys swam it off. Schneider went 21.19, Richardson 21.28. In the final, Schneider, swimming in the outside lane, Lane 8, got off to a great start and won a bronze medal, behind Brazil's Cesar Cielo and France's Fred Bousquet.
If they can do it in swimming, and they not only can but they do, they not only can do it in track and field but they must. It's the only fair solution.