Sprinter Tarmoh Concedes Olympic Spot To Felix

Jul 2, 2012
Originally published on July 2, 2012 5:35 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

There was a messy end today to the weeklong controversy in women's track and field. Jeneba Tarmoh has withdrawn from the 100-meter runoff, giving the final U.S. spot at the London Olympics to her training partner, Allyson Felix. Tarmoh and Felix tied for third place in the final qualifying race on June 23rd. An unprecedented runoff between the two was scheduled for this evening, but that race will not happen. Felix will run in the Olympics. Tarmoh will be an alternate.

NPR's Tom Goldman is covering the story for us. And, Tom, Tarmoh's decision to drop out came in an email from her agent earlier today. Why did she do it?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: No reason given, Melissa. The email to USA Track & Field merely states fact. Tarmoh, quote, "is declining the third place position in the 100 to Allyson Felix." Tarmoh was never comfortable with the plan for a runoff. She had said she felt robbed by the announcement of a dead heat with Felix. Initially, the scoreboard at the track listed Tarmoh in third by fractions of a second. She celebrated on the track. She was part of the postrace press conference, talking about her excitement about going to the Olympics, so she felt like the rug had been pulled out from under her.

BLOCK: And it turns out the USA Track & Field had no protocol for what happens in the event of a tie. Does she have any recourse?

GOLDMAN: Well, as far as recourse, a USA Track & Field spokesperson told me an athlete has to file a protest within 30 minutes of the posting of final results of a race, which happened two Saturdays ago. So Tarmoh missed that window, and under USATF rules, she cannot now file a protest.

BLOCK: You know, just this past weekend, Tom, Allyson Felix qualified to run in London in another event, the 200 meters. Tarmoh has not qualified in another race, so it seems kind of surprising that it was Tarmoh dropping out here. This was her only shot at the Olympics, and people were calling on Felix to concede, to give her teammate, in a sense, the spot.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It did seem a little surprising. Tarmoh is young. She's 22. She's considered a rookie in her first full year as a professional runner. And you would expect her to claw for that spot in her first games. But also the assumption that Felix would forfeit her spot, as many did make that assumption, was underestimating Felix. The 200 meters is her best distance. She won silver medals in that event in the last two Olympic Games. She felt that running the 100 helped her speed in that longer race, and her career best time of 21.69 seconds, which she ran when she won at the trials a couple of days ago, that is perhaps evidence of the positive effect the 100 has had.

BLOCK: And what has she said today about Tarmoh dropping out of the runoff?

GOLDMAN: Well, all she's done is release a statement, and that said, quote, "The situation has been difficult for everyone involved. I had accepted the USATF decision and was prepared to run at 5 p.m. local time in Eugene, Oregon. I wanted to earn my spot on this team and not have it conceded to me, so I share in everyone's disappointment that this runoff will not happen. All I can do now is turn my focus to London."

BLOCK: Hmm. But not an ideal way for USA Track & Field to start the Olympic season heading into the Olympics.

GOLDMAN: You know, sadly, this controversy obscures a lot of wonderful performances at the trials. It obscures the great crowd that cheered through the constant rain in Eugene, Oregon, where the trials were held. Track and field is one of the sports that comes out in the general public's mind at least every four years when the Olympics roll around. So, yeah, a bad way to start this Olympic season. USA Track & Field could have handled things much better. There should have been a tiebreaker plan in place at the beginning. There wasn't. They shouldn't have had this thing drag out as long as it did. And then today's race, which would have covered some of these blemishes at least temporarily, doesn't happen. So a bit of downer.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tom Goldman, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.