Josh Schneider

Women's 100: let's have a run-off

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.

Small-town guy Tim Phillips goes big at University Games

SHENZHEN, China -- The Summer University Games are hardly the Olympics or world championships. They're not the Pan American Games. For swimmers, they don't even offer a stage on the order of the Pan Pacific championships. Even so, these Games always herald the potential for breakthrough.

If, at next year's U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Tim Phillips makes the team that goes to London it won't be a huge surprise to swimming insiders. He announced himself here with four medals overall, two gold, the top U.S. swim performance of these 26th Summer University Games.

Phillips, who has finished two years at Ohio State, won both the 50 and 100 butterflys. He swam the second leg in the gold medal-winning 400 free relay. He swam the fly portion of the silver medal-winning medley relay.

His effort capped a performance that saw the U.S. team win a competition-high total of 29 swim medals. Japan took 27. New Zealand, intriguingly, took third, with 13.

A couple weeks ago, at the world championships In Shanghai, the U.S. coaches said the American program held unusual depth. Wait, they said, until you see some of these college swimmers.

Again, that's what in large measure makes these University Games such a novel proposition -- the notion of seeing tomorrow's stars today.

Rebecca Soni, for instance, the current Olympic and world breaststroke champion, was a gold medalist in the 200 breast at the 2005 University Games. Dana Vollmer, winner in Shanghai of the 100 butterfly, was also a member of that 2005 U.S. University Games team.

Though the fields here would obviously not match up with those at worlds, it's not as if there wasn't talent in Shenzhen. Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, arguably the third-best all-around swimmer in the world, along with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, raced here, winning three gold medals, in the 200 fly and the 200 and 400 IMs.

Phillips grew up in West Virginia, of all places, where he went to Parkersburg High School. But he comes from an Ohio State family. His dad, Tom, swam at Ohio State. As a boy, Tim Phillips went to Buckeye football games. He went to Ohio State summer swim camps.

Signing with Ohio State, and coach Bill Wadley, and the new pool there -- one of the best in the country -- was pretty much a slam dunk.

In his first year at Ohio State, Phillips helped the Buckeyes win their first Big Ten championship in 54 years.

At the 2010 U.S. nationals, he finished third in the 100 fly, behind Phelps and Tyler McGill, in 52.41.

A couple weeks later, at the Pan Pacs, he finished ninth, winning the B final, in 52.21.

This is where things started getting even more interesting for Tim Phillips.

At the end of his sophomore year at Ohio State, Phillips moved down to Charlotte, N.C., to train with SwimMAC and coach David Marsh, along with the likes of Cullen Jones, Nick Brunelli, Nick Thoman and Josh Schneider, other U.S. national team members.

There are two spots up for grabs next summer at the Trials in the 100 fly. Unless something goes horribly awry, Phelps is going to get one of those spots. He's the Olympic and world champion in the event multiple times over, including again in Shanghai in 2011, when he wasn't even in tip-top shape.

At the 2010 nationals and 2010 Pan Pacs, McGill finished second, behind Phelps.

The 2011 U.S. nationals took place after Shanghai. Phelps, having already won worlds, opted not to race at nationals. Both McGill and Phillips, though, were there. This year in the 100 fly, Phillips came in first and McGill came in second -- Phillips in 51.69, McGill in 51.84.

For the math-challenged -- Phillips is roughly six-tenths of a second faster in 2011 than he was in 2010. That's a marked improvement, and 2012 is yet to come.

Here in Shenzhen, his winning 100 time, 52.06, reflected more the end of a long summer of racing than a suggestion of anything else; he led the race at the turn and won by more than half a second, over Tom Shields of Cal-Berkeley, who touched in 52.62, making it a 1-2 race for the Americans.

Phillips is an immensely likable 20-year-old from Small Town USA. When he got done swimming at this year's nationals, he said, he had dozens of text messages on his phone, "from, like, everyone at home."

When he won the 100, he pointed to the American flag on his cap. Representing the United States, he said, is "always a big deal for me."

"Every time he goes on a trip," said Wadley, his coach at Ohio State, who was here in Shenzhen,  "he comes back hungrier, he comes back better, he comes back more excited. It has been quite a trajectory."