Take a look at the picture above. It’s the subject of a major debate this week in the world of running; during the Olympic trials on Saturday night in Eugene, Oregon two runners – Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix – tied for third place at exactly 11.068 seconds.
If either runner had been slightly faster, the winner would be be decided by who’s torso (not head or hands) crossed the finish line first. As you can see by the photograph, Alyson Fenix (bottom) has her head and hand over the line first, but not her torso. What’s more: the tie was recorded not by human hand but by a computer photographing the event at 3,000 times a second.
The top three in the event head to the Olympics this summer to compete in London, meaning this 3rd place result could be a life-changer for either runner. The United States Track and Field (USATF) released a statement late last Saturday night admitting that they did not have a procedure for deciding the result of this incredibly rare tie and that the winner would be decided via a coin toss.
The coin toss will take place this Sunday before the Olympic trials end. Just in case anyone objects to the results, the USATF has a 387 word statement regarding the coin toss procedure:
USATF shall provide a United States Quarter Dollar coin 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. Each athlete shall inspect the coin to ensure the obverse and reverse hubs of the coin reflect the images of George Washington and the Eagle, respectively.
The athlete with the highest world ranking according to the IAAF rankings as of 8 am PST on the date of the coin toss shall declare his or her choice of “heads” for the obverse hub or “tails” for the reverse hub. If the athlete with the highest world ranking chooses not to declare his or her choice, that athlete shall be assigned the choice of heads for the obverse hub of the coin. The other athlete shall be designated, by default, the choice either: 1. Not chosen by the highest-ranking athlete or 2. Tails should the highest-ranking athlete choose not to declare his or her choice.
The choices shall be confirmed by a representative chosen by USATF. Once the choices have been made and confirmed by the USATF representative, 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, allowing the coin to rest on his or her thumb. In one single action, the USATF representative shall toss the coin into the air, allowing the coin to fall to the ground.
Once the coin has fallen to the ground, the USATF representative shall, without touching or lifting the coin, view the coin and determine whether the coin has landed on the obverse or reverse hub. In the event that the coin does not fall completely on either the obverse or reverse hub, the USATF representative shall repeat the toss process as described above.
The athlete who chose the hub that is displayed shall be declared the winner by the USATF representative.
In the event either or both athlete refuses to participate in the coin toss, the USATF representative shall assign the athlete with the highest world ranking “heads” and the other athlete “tails” and shall toss the coin in the presence of at least two witnesses and declare the winner pursuant to the procedure set forth above.