The Olympic track-and-field trials fiasco — or, more accurately, farce — nearly beggars description. What was more ludicrous — that the USATF didn’t have a tie-breaking procedure after a century of holding trials? That the federation came up with a feckless triple option that put the burden on sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh? Or that president Stephanie Hightower, who herself lost out in a triple dead heat in the hurdles in 1984, declared that “the likelihood of it happening didn’t cross anybody’s minds”.
Dead heats at the elite level in timed sports, while rare, happen often enough that tiebreaking procedures must be in place. At last year’s world swimming championships, where races are timed to the 100th of a second, the gold medal was shared in both the men’s 100-meter backstroke and the women’s 100-meter freestyle. And after Felix and Jarmoh had run the same time (11.068) in the 100 final, they were only 1,000th of a second apart in the 200 semifinals.
The old joke about bumblers who could mess up a two-car funeral applies here. The entire process was botched from the moment that officials declared Jarmoh the third-place finisher, gave her a medal, and brought her to a news conference. From then until Monday, when Jarmoh abruptly pulled out of the raceoff that she’d agreed to, everything was mishandled.
The only proper way to resolve a dead heat that involves making an Olympic team is to have the athletes go head-to-head. What the USATF should have done was consult with the athletes, fix a date, and fire the gun. First one across wins. That’s what swimming does and it’s baffling that the USOC, which approves all selection procedures for all sports, for decades didn’t notice that the track people didn’t have a tiebreaking provision.
The USATF got every part of the triple option wrong. The raceoff shouldn’t have been left up to the athletes. A unilateral nolo contendere would have made one of them appear afraid to put herself on the line. And what Olympian worthy of the name would agree to have a lifetime of work and dreams come down to chance? “To run the 100-meter final at the Olympic trials and for it to be decided on a coin toss? It blows my mind,” said men’s victor Justin Gatlin.
A pass on 2022
As expected, the USOC board passed Tuesday on bidding for the 2022 Winter Games to focus on the 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Olympics. While Salt Lake City, Denver, Reno-Tahoe, and Bozeman, Mont., all were interested in 2022, the USOC concluded that there was insufficient time to prepare a competitive bid by next year’s deadline.
In the swim
Turns out that the superhyped Games showdown between swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will consist of only two races. After Phelps scratched from the 200-meter freestyle to focus on the 4 x 100 freestyle relay (giving Ricky Berens a priceless gift), their only mano-a-manos will come in the individual medleys, which they split at the Omaha trials. Though Phelps likely would have won a medal in the event, as he did at last year’s world meet, he wanted to be rested for the relay, which comes on the same day as the 200 prelims and semis and where the Americans will have to jet in order to beat the Australians. After going 8 for 8 in Beijing, Phelps saw no need to try for an unlikely repeat. What he’s after — and almost certainly will break — is the record for most Olympic medals (18) held by former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina. If form holds Phelps, who has 16, will collect seven more in London in the two butterfly events, the two IMs, and the three relays. That’s the same number that 17-year-old Missy Franklin, the Phemale Phelps, can pick up in the freestyle sprints, the backstrokes, and the relays. That would be one more than the record-tying haul that Natalie Coughlin collected in Beijing. Franklin, a dozen years younger than Coughlin, beat her in two events at the trials. “It’s time for Missy,” acknowledged Coughlin, who’ll likely swim only the 4 x 100 prelims at the Games. Berens, who found out about his starting spot from a tweet from Phelps’s coach Bob Bowman, wasn’t the only beneficiary of Phelps’s scratch. Davis Tarwater, who’d missed qualifying for his third straight Games, was given a spot in the 800 free relay pool after he’d headed home to hang up his suit. While he may not get to race at the Games, Tarwater will get to march . . . After shoulder and knee surgeries since she won three medals in Beijing, Dara Torres came within nine-100ths of a second of making her sixth Olympic team in the 50 freestyle. “This is really over,” declared the 45-year-old swimming mom, whose time (24.82) would have made the final at last year’s global meet. Torres, who first competed in the 1984 Games, ends her career with 12 medals, tying Jenny Thompson for most by a US female swimmer . . . How much difference did those now-banned polyurethane swimsuits make? Four world records — two apiece by Phelps and backstroker Aaron Peirsol — were set at the 2008 US Olympic trials. There were none this time in the same Omaha pool and only two American records, by Franklin in the 100 back and Allison Schmitt, Phelps’s training partner, in the 200 free. “I think the suits, where they are right now is where they should stay,” said men’s head coach Gregg Troy. “We’re back to a little more true sport.”
Except for Jonathan Horton, the 26-year-old Beijing veteran, nobody on the US men’s gymnastics team is even old enough to drink. Danell Leyva and Jake Dalton are 20, John Orozco and Sam Mikulak only 19. What’s intriguing about the squad, which is favored to win bronze in London, is that Dalton (at Oklahoma) and Mikulak (Michigan) are still competing in college and that Orozco, who comes from the Bronx, turned up in the gym after his father found a flyer for free lessons. Unlike the women’s team, which long has had a gushing club pipeline, the men have made an art of putting together world-class teams from a variety of ingredients . . . Some of the oarsmen who didn’t make the Olympic rowing team collected a memorable consolation prize upstream from London at Henley last weekend, beating Brown’s heavyweight varsity for the Grand Challenge Cup. It was the first time since 1995, when a US training camp crew managed it, that an American eight had won the regatta’s biggest prize . . . The attrition of the US men’s basketball pool continues with Lamar Odom opting out, and Anthony Davis spraining an ankle at a Hornets workout and putting himself out of commission for a couple of weeks. With Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade both withdrawing, that essentially leaves 14 candidates for the 12-man roster that will be announced Saturday . . . The US women’s basketball team now knows who it’ll be facing in the prelims. Besides China and Angola, the four-time defending champions will meet Croatia, the Czech Republic, and the Turks. The men, who’ve drawn France, Tunisia, and Argentina, also will face two teams from the qualifying tournament in Caracas that ends Sunday.
Seven members of the US women’s field hockey team from Beijing have earned return tickets for London — captain Lauren Crandall, Kayla Bashore-Smedley, Amy Swensen, Keli Smith-Puzo, Caroline Nichols, Katelyn Falgowski, and Rachel Dawson. They’ll be joined by UConn grad Melissa Gonzalez and Princeton sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht, the squad’s only undergrads. Ten of the 16 players played for Atlantic Coast Conference schools and nine are Pennsylvania residents. The Americans, who finished eighth in 2008 in their first Games appearance since 1996, drew a tough group. They’ll face four of the top seven teams in World Cup titlist Argentina (whom the Yanks beat to qualify), Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, and wire services was used in this report.