EUGENE, Ore. — Before the start of the women’s 200-meter dash, Allyson Felix looked like she had the weight of the world on her lithe 125-pound frame.
With neon green leggings seeming to amplify her already long stride, Felix took the lead in the curve and left Carmelita Jeter and Sanya Richards-Ross behind in the mist of Hayward Field.
By the finish, she was all smiles. The 26-year-old sprinter won the race in 21.69, solidifying a spot on her third Olympic team.
“It was all about fighting to make the team,” said Felix. “It definitely has been an emotional time here at Trials. I was thinking about the hours on the track and those grueling days. You don’t do it for nothing. I was thinking about all that and wanting to leave it all on the track today.”
The two-time silver Olympic medalist now has a chance to round out her precious “medal” collection in the 200: with Olympic gold.
“I’ve thought for eight years about being a silver medalist in the 200,” she said.
In an eight-woman field loaded with talent — three of whom had already qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team — Felix also set a new Olympic Trials record in the 200, breaking the 21.77 held by Florence Griffith Joyner for almost a quarter century.
For Jeter and Richards-Ross, their second and third place finishes mean they will be doubling in London — Jeter in the 100/200, Richards-Ross in the 200/400.
Felix also talked of doubling. But before the Olympic Trials, she was undecided about whether to try for the 100 or 400 in addition to the 200 — the race she calls her “baby.”
At the 2011 World Championships last summer, Felix doubled in the 400 and 200, coming away with silver and bronze medals, respectively.
But the experience was taxing, and both the 400 and 100 come before her “baby.” She did not want to risk losing the 200 again. Maybe if she tried the 100 rather than the 400, she would have more left for the 200? And the shorter sprint would serve as a warm-up of sorts.
Except on a rainy night last Saturday, Felix infamously tied Jeneba Tarmoh for third in the women’s 100-meter dash final, then seemed to live in Olympic limbo land all week waiting to see who would make it in the 200. A self-described rookie, Tarmoh made the 200 final, ironically tying Felix’s time in the semi-final (they were in different heats). Then the 22-year-old sprinter, who a year ago was invited by Felix to train with her in California, finished fifth in the 200 final. Tarmoh’s only chance of competing in London was now up to a tiebreaker in the 100.
This was not the first tie at an Olympic Trials. At the 1952 U.S. Olympic Trials — in the age of hand timers — two men tied for third in the 100. But one of the gentlemen then made the team in the 200 so let the other man race the 100.
Then in 1980, the men’s 400-meter hurdles saw a dead heat for third. But the boycott meant there was no need for a tiebreak.
Four years later, USATF president Stephanie Hightower, then a hurdler, was in a three-way tie for second. From a grainy photo of the finish, officials determined that Hightower was odd-woman out.
Improved technology reduced the chances of another tie. But even cameras that shoot 3,000 frames/second could not determine the third place finisher of last week’s 100 final. So last Sunday, USA Track & Field announced the procedure for deciding dead heats — a run-off or a coin toss. Athletes’ choice.
A coin toss would leave the decision to fate. A run-off would subject their bodies to 11+ seconds of bone-jarring, muscle-straining pounding.
Interestingly, until this year, sprinters ran four rounds in each race at Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games — qualifying, quarterfinals, semis, and the final. Now they only run three rounds. So, in theory, an extra run-off would add no more races than what Felix faced at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and Olympic Trials.
Despite the weight of the impending decision, it was not as distracting to the athletes as it was to the press this week.
“Allyson and I have not even talked about the 100,” said Tarmoh, who was surprisingly all smiles after the 200. “We’ve just been solely focusing on the 200.”
When asked about her preference — the run-off or a coin toss — Tarmoh added, “It’s my and her decision, nobody else’s to make, it’s between us.”
However, she did give a glimpse of her preference when she added, “I always want to run the 100 so … “
Felix and Tarmoh, plus their coach Bobby Kersee, and a USATF official planned to meet Saturday night (after the 200) to discuss the outcome of the 100.
“The discussion tonight is: Is everyone still in? Which option is looking good for you? Then determining how we’re moving forward,” said USATF spokesperson Jill Geer. “If there’s a runoff, then we’ll set it.”
With her mind and body spent after running the sixth fastest 200-meter dash ever, not to mention the emotional week, Felix did not want to talk about her choice in settling the tiebreak. Instead, she was happy to praise her new training partner. Over the past year, Felix and Tarmoh have forged a friendship on the track, working on “whatever Bobby Kersee throws at us,” said Felix.
“We’re dying together, we’re out there in the grueling training environment,” she added. “It’s a lot about pushing each other, helping each other reach our goals. When you see someone every day and the progress both of us back and forth, it’s a special relationship.”
The impending 100-meter decision overshadowed the fact that the women’s 200-meter race was perhaps the most competitive of the entire Olympic Trials. And it produced a blockbuster Olympic squad of star sprinters.
“We have a strong American team,” said Carmelita Jeter, the reigning 100-meter world champion and a first-time Olympian. “We push each other to the finish line. And when that relay comes, we’re going to get that stick around.
“It just feels good to know I have other strong women running alongside me against other countries. I think we’re going to be fine.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.