Thoughts on Felix and Tarmoh’s Dead Heat

I’ve always been fascinated by the touching story of Sueo Oe 大江 季雄 and Shuhei Nishida 西田 修平.  The two Japanese pole vaulters won bronze and silver at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The two vaulters were very good friends. When they arrived in Japan, they went to a jeweler and had the two medals cut in half. Both Nishida and Oe had equal halves of bronze and silver, aptly called the Medal of Eternal Friendship.

Read: “The Medal of Eternal Friendship”

In sport, people often say that only one person (or team) can emerge victorious. True enough, that is almost always the case in competitive sport, especially in athletics. Unless there is a dead heat.

The U.S. Olympic Trials featured one of the most high profile deadlocks in a running event the past few years. At the 100m dash final, the fast-finishing Allyson Felix caught up with her training partner Jeneba Tarmoh. Third place – and the coveted spot in the U.S. lineup – was originally awarded to Tarmoh. A closer review of the photo-finish tapes revealed that the sprinters actually clocked identical times of 11.068s.

The U.S. Trials is a cutthroat method of selection, where the top three finishers in each event are automatically given outright slots to a major championships, provided that they had met the entry standards. Considering the vast talent pool of the U.S., the competition for those berths are naturally tough (even tougher than the Olympic Games itself, some say).

Read: “Running a Dead Heat – Twice”

However, it turns out that there was no clear cut policy on settling dead heats in the running events. Since countries are only allowed to send a maximum of three participants in the Olympic Games, a clear victor must be chosen between Felix and Tarmoh. After much deliberation, the USATF crafted a set of guidelines in dealing with these rare occurrences:

Screenshot from the USATF Website

Read: USATF Dead Heat Procedures

Felix and Tarmoh, simply put, will be given the option of a coin toss or a run-off. Considering how competitive these ladies are, it is almost certain that the latter will be chosen.

Dead heats, because of its rarity (well, not for Yevgeniy Borisov and Konstantin Shabanov, I guess), is a refreshing twist to the black & white outcome of a track race. As spectators and competitors alike, we have been accustomed to seeing one person stand on each rung of the podium. In this day and age of fast-pace lifestyles and cut throat ways of life, it seems almost heartwarming to see two (or even three) people share a coveted prize.

For Felix and Tarmoh, however, they can share the bronze medal but only one can be sent to London.

Post-Race Interviews:

With Felix:

With Tarmoh:

Additional Links:

IAAF article

Bob Kersee’s Thoughts

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