Jeneba Tarmoh admits to feeling slighted by run-off process

Tarmoh at the U.S. trials in June. (US Presswire)

The track and field portion of the Olympics isn't set to begin for another nine days. Until then, the biggest conversation piece, or at least one of the biggest, will be the leftover talking points from the American women's 100-meter trials.

It was the now-infamous Race That Was Too Close to Call. Allyson Felix, established and gorgeous U.S. track star, finished in a virtual tie against Jeneba Tarmoh, practically unknown up-and-comer on the U.S. track circuit.

First the win was given to Tarmoh. Then it was too close to call. So then it was a tie. Would they run? After deliberations took too long, prompting big-time criticism and publicity of the wrong kind against United States track officials, it was decided: the girls could run it off.

But Tarmoh backed out. She chose to not to run, robbing the public of one of the greatest non-Olympic American track spectacles it would have ever seen.

Why'd she back out?

After putting on a pretty face and smiling away the critics, Tarmoh has chosen to open up about what she went through and how she still feels slighted and wronged by the process. In effect: she feels if Felix was declared the original winner, as Tarmoh was, there wouldn't have even been talk of a run-off. And that bothers her. A lot.

"I'm always going to remember my first Olympics as the year when my 100-meter spot was taken away from me,'' Tarmoh told Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden.

Tarmoh, who fled Sierra Leone with her family when she was a child, maintains that her decision and the inner workings/blunderings of that 100-meter decision are still misintepreted to this day. For now, she's preparing to run in the 4 x 100, her only event of the 2012 Games.
It would have been so different if they had called it a dead heat from the start,'' said Tarmoh. "When I crossed the line and saw my name on the board, it was like a dream come true. It was like a woman on her wedding day. It was like a mother who struggles to give birth and it's the happiest day of her life and all of sudden somebody says, 'Sorry, that baby isn't yours.' It hurts. It hurts so much. And people want me to just accept that, just say, 'Oh, it's OK?'''
Tarmoh essentially admits to being browbeaten into the race-off procedure. She was uncomfortable with the whole ordeal; in a way, she felt conspired against by the United States Track and Field association, and by Nike, who oversaw the U.S. trial in Eugene, Ore., where the behemoth company is based.

"I said to Allyson, 'I feel like if this was the other way around,'' that is, if Felix had initially been declared the winner, "this wouldn't be the situation. There's something fishy about this.''


"I asked them for an explanation of why it was a dead heat when this finish judge said he would call me the winner 100 times,'' says Tarmoh. "They said 'Jeneba, it's a dead heat. You have to decide, run or concede.' I kept saying, 'I don't want to run, I don't want to concede.'''

"They were saying, 'There's a lot of money invested in this runoff, it's the next big thing for track and field.'''

Tarmoh was initially set to compete in the run-off -- TV time had been allotted, the whole she-bang of drama was in the process of getting propped -- but during the 200-meter men's final, as she sat in the stands, she realized she couldn't run against Felix one-on-one, according to the story.

"This time, for the runoff, I couldn't find anything," she told Layden. "I prayed for that spirit and there was nothing, I was just flat. I wasn't running away from running, I'm a competitor. I can't explain it. I needed to find a way to cope. When I decided not to run, I found peace.''

Tarmoh maintains that she won the race, but her supposition there garners her almost no support. Belief is one thing, but the photo is another. And in the souped-up experience of crossing a finish line, a runner cannot truly tell if she or he has won in that second when teh second is too broad a measurement.
Her reasons aside, people wanted to see her run. Americans want their athletes to prove it on the field. If you'll talk, you better walk. Tarmoh couldn't complete the task. I sympathize with her story, and she has a few good points, but in the end her reasons for wanting not to run aren't satisfactory. They are excuses, not reasons, and if she's at peace with it, then fine. But she shouldn't expect people to side with her. The result is ultimately the most important facet to that 100-meter final, and the result was a tie.
So Felix will get in the blocks for the U.S. in the 100-meter in a little less than two weeks, and then we'll find out if Tarmoh's actions ultimately were for the better of U.S. women's track, even if they're undoubtedly already better for her state of mind.
CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories