How do you know when a situation in sports really, truly is unprecedented? When the rulebook for the sport has no protocol on how to handle it.
That's the situation now facing USA Track and Field at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, after the most advanced timing and photography technology in the world could not separate third-place finishers Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the women's 100-meter dash finals. After Tarmoh was briefly given the edge by one-one-thousandth of a second -- 11.067 to 11.068 -- officials convened and declared the two to instead be in a perfect dead heat at 11.068.
USATF would later issue a statment and a photo of the finish:
Bearing in mind that "torso position" is the determining factor, the two do appear to be exactly tied. The photo was taken at a rate of 3,000 frames-per-second.
The top three finishers in the finals advance to the Olympics. With reigning world champion Carmelita Jeter taking first in 10.92 and Tianna Madison second in 10.96 -- and the U.S. limited to only three Olympic entrants, by IOC rule -- only one of Felix and Tarmoh will go to London.
But how the USATF will decide which of the two will is yet to be determined. There is no bylaw in the USATF rulebook on how to break an exact tie. As of late Sunday evening, officials were believed to be considering either a run-off or a coin flip.
An official with finish-line technology firm Lynx told NBC analyst Ato Boldon he "has never seen anything like this."
Given the cruelty of the coinflip, it seems likely(ish?) that Felix and Tarmoh will have their run-off sometime over the next few days--just one more must-see event in a Trials that thanks to the likes of Ashton Eaton and Lolo Jones already seems overflowing with them.