Out There: Flip A Coin

At the very least, if you’re going to have a tiebreaker that isn’t a run-off, at least pick something competitive, like Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Blue diamonds.
A dead heat.

Only one of those things actually has documented proof of its existence (and sadly, it ain’t the unicorn).

At the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials this past Saturday, sprinters Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix finished in a true dead heat for third place in the women’s 100m final. Officials checked, double-checked, magnified photos, and checked yet again…and couldn’t declare a winner. With only one Olympic spot left to give, the sport’s governing body, USA Track & Field was unsure of what to do. Protocols weren’t in place for such a situation. After discussion, they gave Tarmoh and Felix three choices:

1) Seeing if one was willing to bow out and let the other take the Olympic spot;
2) Racing again; or
3) Flipping a coin.

Yes, you read that right: a freaking COIN TOSS.

I’d like to have been in the room when USATF had this discussion:

OFFICIAL TOM: It is officially declared a dead heat.
USATF BOB: You sure?
OFFICIAL TOM: Absolutely.
USATF BOB: Huh. Imagine that. Well, er, ah…not sure what to do here. I guess we could just flip a coin for it or something.

It’s the Olympics, people…not the last slice of pie. To use a coin toss to assign one of the sport’s highest honors is, quite frankly, insulting. Luck belongs in Vegas on a Saturday night, not London 2012. At the very least, if you’re going to have a tiebreaker that isn’t a run-off, at least pick something competitive, like Rock-Paper-Scissors or, I don’t know…beer pong. (Hey, don’t knock it. I’m from Wisconsin, and I’m pretty sure that’s how we pick our elected officials.) You think those options sound ridiculous? So does the coin toss.

Athletes don’t get to the Olympics by sheer heads-or-tails luck. It takes work – hard work. What kind of message does it send to relegate such a huge opportunity to the flip of a coin? We, the average American Dicks and Janes, are in awe of the sheer athleticism of those who compete in the Olympics – athleticism most of us can only dream about achieving. To negate such talent with something any of us can do at home? It deflates the splendor of it all, bringing the athletes down to…well, our level. What’s next – lottery spots for anyone who wants to run the Olympic marathon?

In a long-winded statement released by USATF on Sunday, the procedures for the coin toss were outlined. They seem to have spent more time thinking about about the type of coin (a U.S. Quarter “with the image of George Washington appearing on the obverse hub of the coin and an Eagle appearing on the reverse hub of the coin”) and the procedure (“each athlete shall face each other and the USATF representative shall bend his or her index finger at a 90 degree angle to his or her thumb”) than they did considering that this is a really dumb idea, y’all.

Because both athletes have one more opportunity to qualify for the Olympics in the 200 meter dash (also, it’s likely both women will be considered for the 4 x 100m relay), it’s possible that Felix, who has two Olympic silver medals in the 200, qualifies for the Games in that event and defers her 100m spot to Tarmoh, her friend and training partner. That’d be a classy thing to do (and Felix is a classy chick), but if she doesn’t defer, then the best way to settle this isn’t with a U.S. Quarter.

The coin flip shouldn’t even be an option. It should be a choice to either defer or have a run-off. Yes, the two should lace up their shoes and prepare to give the race of their life. To get to the Olympics, you have to want it. The grittiness and raw passion of someone fighting for something she’s wanted her entire life – that’s what the Olympics are about. That’s what should decide who represents our country on the international stage.

That USATF believes the flip of a coin could ever be deserving of that honor…well, that’s a joke.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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