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A First in the Olympic Trials

Jeneba withdraws from a tie break to qualify for the 100 meter race in London.

The race was a nail biter. One that ended with a question mark. Fortunately we have amazing cameras that capture what the human eye cannot. The days of irate John McEnroes ranting over human errors are almost obsolete.

Except in 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. When teammates Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix competed against one another in the 100 meter run to qualify for the Olympics.

This time the cameras didn’t provide evidence, only demand for human interpretation once again. Jeneba was declared the 3rd place winner after her torso crossed the line a hair in front of Allyson.

After further review, the officials declared a dead heat. Never before had there been a tie for 3rd place in an Olympic trials running event. Officials created new rules to break the tie giving the athletes 3 choices: withdraw, flip a coin, or have a run-off. Allyson and Jeneba agreed on a run-off.

Following the 200 meter run, which both athletes also ran, Jeneba chose to withdraw from the run-off. Allyson Felix’s Olympic 100 meter race dropped in her lap.

Jeneba was criticized for her decision. She told the media that she didn’t feel strong enough to compete well in the run-off after coming off a disappointing performance in the 200. She was feeling the effects of the trials, both mentally and physically.

Allyson stated they remained friends and teammates but that she was disappointed. She wanted to earn her spot and prove she deserved it by winning the run-off.

Rumors circulated that Jeneba felt she legitimately won 3rd place in the final and was disenchanted.

Poor sport or smart decision? Did she owe her teammate a run-off? Was it unfair to change her mind after already committing to this unprecedented resolution?

I say smart decision. If Jeneba felt she couldn’t win the run-off or give it her best shot, she is better off leaving the question mark. Questions leave room for speculation and that’s better than a loss.

Not only must athletes train hard physically before the Olympics, they must protect their confidence. Every athlete who qualifies for the Olympics is talented and well trained. The gold medal often goes to the one with the mental edge. The one whose confidence is peaked and focus is tunneled so narrow that the only light is at the end on a wall, line, or mat.

I don’t think Jeneba owed her teammate a run-off. At this level, each athlete must determine what’s best for them. If Jeneba felt off for any reason, the worst thing she could do is pour salt in the wound. If she felt cheated out of third place, losing a run-off may have fueled negative energy going into her other Olympic races.

Both of these women race with enormous potential for victory. Hopefully this history making tie will be remembered as an amazing moment in sport.

When the difference between gold and silver can be the length of a fingernail, the only public opinion should be one of enormous awe and respect, not criticism.

To see the photo finish and read more about the race, click here.

"The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." Michelangelo

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