As a passionate track & field fan, I was excited when United States of America Track & Field (USATF), the governing body of the sport in the US, started a fan rewards program in January 2014. The idea was for fans to log-in to their rewards account daily to receive “wings” and to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to promote USATF and also earn wings. With these wings, fans could buy different reward items such as USATF gloves, signed merchandise, and USATF experiences.
When I reached 25,000 wings, I quickly bought a pair of USATF gloves. My wife, Malinda (a.k.a. the Track Widow), also accumulated points but she strategically held on to hers waiting for something “bigger and better” than gloves. As the USA Outdoor Championships, which were taking place in Sacramento, approached a new reward became available for 25,000 wings – the chance to present an award at USA’s. I didn’t have enough wings but Malinda did! By the time we got Malinda logged in and ready to pull the trigger, the reward was sold out. However, the next day, something even better was available – the chance to hold the finish line for one of the races. We logged in and Malinda got it! Woo-hoo! Malinda was the perfect person for this job because three years ago she wrote a blog about the challenges of holding the finish line for a race. (It’s not as easy as you might think.)
We spent the next day strategizing about her options. Should she choose Shannon Rowbury’s race and risk missing getting to watch the race? I suggested a sprint race which increased her likelihood of a close finish and thus some TV time. Malinda put it to her Facebook friends as well as discussing it with her work colleagues. She decided that it was a non-qualifying year (i.e. no Olympics or World Championship qualifying berths were on the line) and thus there was less pressure and it would be okay to hold the finish line for Shannon’s race.
A couple days later a new reward came up on the USATF rewards page – for 25,000 wings you could co-host The Cool Down show on USATFtv. Now that is something I would love to do… but I didn’t have enough wings. A few days went by and I noticed that the reward was still available. I decided to go for it. I started tweeting with the USATF hashtag to get extra wings. Finally one night at 1:00 A.M. I had 25,000 wings and I bought the reward. I was in heaven! The chance to go on internet and talk about my favorite subject – track & field!
The week leading up to USAs was full of excitement. We communicated with Caleb Bailey, the strategic programs manager with USATF. He set things up for us and confirmed that Malinda would hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I would do The Cool-Down show Friday night after the women’s 5000. I was beyond excited. I was going to get to talk to Dan O’Brien and tell him how he gave up his seat on the train one night on the way home from the London Olympic Stadium, which allowed Malinda and me to sit together. I rehearsed in my mind what questions I would ask the 5000 meter race winner, preparing for both Shannon and the other favorite, Molly Huddle. Every night, I would say to Malinda, “Pretend you’re Dan O’Brien; ask me a question!”
When we got to Sacramento, Caleb had a couple more surprises for us. I was going to get to join Malinda and hold the finish line and we would both get to be down on the track to watch the race.
About thirty minutes before the women’s 5000 we were taken down to the finish line area. We got to see behind the scenes for the men’s and women’s 100 meters. Then we were taken onto the track where we watched the women’s 5000 meter race unfold. We were given instructions to stay out of the camera sight lines and to not block any of the sponsor’s signs. We cheered quietly for Shannon, not wanting to create a scene. At one point, some of my friends sitting on the backstretch in the ‘Aggies section’ saw me and started heckling and yelling at me. To their delight, I took their picture as they all waved and cheered. On the track, as expected, Molly was leading and Shannon was right behind her. Being on the track, instead of in my usual seat in the stands, I had a hard time getting a sense of what kind of time they were on pace to run. As the race reached the final laps the small pack of runners who had initially stayed with Molly and Shannon fell back. It became a two woman race.
By this point we were near the finish line and receivinga tutorial about what to do. “Make sure you don’t block the finish line timing camera,” we were reminded. Malinda would be on the infield holding one end of the finish line. She was to let go as soon as the runner hit it. I would be in lane three holding the rolled up end of the finish line and I was not supposed to let go. I remember hearing someone tell me, “After Treniere comes by go on to the track.” It was something I would say at Kezar Stadium at the Tuesday night track workout, “after the guy in the black shorts comes by, let’s get on,” only we were at the USA Championships, not Kezar!
After I got situated on the track I looked up and Shannon had taken the lead with about 200 to go. I felt myself jumping up and down despite knowing I should stay calm. A runner was close to getting lapped so we had to wait until she passed before we handed the end of the finish line to Malinda. Once that was done I looked up and Molly was moving up on Shannon. They were both drifting out. For a split second, Molly was running right towards me. I instinctively backed up into lane four but had the foresight to know that I needed to unspool the finish line tape from the roll or else I would rip it out of Malinda’s hands. Just in time I backed out of the way and Molly crossed the finish line and broke the tape, just 0.15 seconds ahead of Shannon.
It was a great race and a dramatic finish between two of the US’s top runners (they were 6th and 7th place at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow). It would have been a dream situation for me and Malinda had Shannon won, but that’s the drama of sports… you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
We waited awhile for Shannon and then got to give her a hug before she went for interviews and drug testing. Then we were whisked off to the set of The Cool Down show. We got to talk to Dan O’Brien and told him our London train story. I quickly changed into the red USATF polo shirt they wanted me to wear for the show and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the set with a microphone in my hand. The producers were all very nice as they made some small talk to put me at ease. Running friends and fellow coaches saw me and started gathering around the set hooting and hollering and taking my picture. Molly Huddle sat down next to me and put on a headset. We had to wait thirteen minutes for a segment on Kirani James to finish and then the red light went on… we were on the air. After some introductions and opening questions by Paul Swangard, I got to ask Molly a question, and then to close the segment I got asked a question. And then it was all over. Molly and I came off the stage and in our place came Dan O’Brien and Bernard Lagat.
All in all it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a track meet… and I’ve been to a lot of meets. At one point last week, Malinda had remarked, “I hope this lives up to our expectations.” Not only did it live up to expectations, it exceeded them. Thanks #USATFrewards!
– They both were multiple time California state champions in high school. Felix, 26, won the 100 meters three times (2001, 2002, 2003) and won the 200 meters two times (2002 and 2003) for Los Angeles Baptist High School. Tarmoh, 22, won the 100 meters and 200 meters in both 2006 and 2007 for Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose. Combined they swept the 100 and 200 at the California State Meet four times (2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007) in a six year span.
– Tarmoh and Felix are both currently coached by Bobby Kersee.
– Felix and Tarmoh both came in third at the 2012 Olympic Trials women’s 100 meters.
WHAT?! How can there be a tie?
When the women’s 100 meter final ended, it was clear and quickly announced that Carmelita Jeter (10.92) was first and Tianna Madison (10.96) was second. But it was a proverbial photo finish for third between Felix and Tarmoh. All eyes at Hayward Field (21,795 spectators plus athletes, coaches, officials, and volunteers) were on the scoreboard waiting for the result to flash up. The announcer alluded to the fact that they weren’t trying to be dramatic, only that it was close and the official was reviewing the computer timing photo. After what seemed like minutes but was probably only 30 seconds, the result popped up on the scoreboard. Third place went to Jeneba Tarmoh in 11.07. Felix was given the same time. The announcer told the crowd that one thousandth of a second separated Tarmoh and Felix.
Tarmoh was elated to make her first Olympic team. Felix was devastated. An hour later Tarmoh was at a press conference where she was being introduced to the media as an Olympian in the 100 meters.
However, behind the scenes and unbeknownst to Tarmoh, there was some question about the result. LetsRun.com got an exclusive interview with the man responsible for reading the results of the women’s 100 meters, Roger Jennings from Flashresults.com. Jennings explained that he initially called Tarmoh third because her right arm was ahead of Felix’s torso. However, he immediately called in the meet referees to confirm that this was the correct call. In the end the meet referees (and Jennings) agreed that what they saw in the photo was a dead heat. The United States of America Track & Field (USATF) released a statement to this effect late Saturday evening, about three hours after the race. At that point, they said they were in meetings to determine how the final spot on the Olympic team would be decided.
I do not dispute the decision to call the race a tie at 11.068 seconds. I do wish that meet officials had handled this better. They should have immediately let everyone know that the result was in question. Tarmoh should not have been at a press conference thinking she had placed third. This is yet another black eye for the sport of track & field because when the television broadcast signed off after the meet, the television viewing world thought Tarmoh had beaten Felix.
But what’s done is done. Next the question became how will the tie be resolved? The only rule in the USATF rulebook is Rule 167, which suggests that: the tying competitors shall be placed in the next round if it is practical to do so. If that is not practical, lots shall be drawn to determine who shall be placed in the next round.
USATF official met to discuss how to handle this situation and around 24 hours after the actual race announced their dead-heat procedures. It basically says that the tie will be broken either by one athlete declining their spot, a run-off, or a coin toss. There are exacting details on the type of coin to be used and the finger position of the person flipping the coin. I cannot do the actual procedures justice so you will just have to read it yourself at this link: http://usatf.org/News/Dead-heat-procedures-announced.aspx. I highly recommend reading the procedures if you have some time and want a good laugh (or ever wondered what your $30 USATF membership fee is paying for).
If you were to ask me what I think is going to happen, I would say that one of the athletes will decline their spot in the 100 meters so that their teammate can go without the need for a run-off or coin flip. I believe that this will not be determined, though, until after the women’s 200 meters, which both Felix and Tarmoh are running, is completed (which is Saturday June 30).
No matter what, this hasn’t been your usual women’s 100 meters.
I am a pretty big believer that one should not wear headphones while running outside. If you are indoors on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike, then go ahead and listen away. But when you are exercising outside I believe there are a variety of reasons why headphones should not be worn.
There is a safety issue. Headphones prevent you from hearing an approaching runner, cyclist, or motor vehicle that may pose a danger to you. It can also keep you from hearing a warning cry from someone. One of the more high profile accidents occurred in 2006 in San Francisco’s Presidio. Ashlyn Dyer was believed to be running and listening to her iPod when she was the victim of a hit and run accident. For safety reasons alone, I think it is best to ditch the headphones.
Another reason to run without headphones is that a big part of running is engaging with those around you in conversation. Nothing says “leave me alone, don’t talk to me” more than headphones in your ears. If you are running alone, I think the solitude of being at one with the road and scenery around you is quite peaceful and best enjoyed when undisturbed by music or a podcast.
I know that some runners use headphones to disengage from the activity they are doing – running. As an experienced runner, I think it’s important to be engaged in the activity of running. Monitoring your breathing, checking your form, and thinking about your pace are all things that a runner would benefit from doing, rather than “zoning out” and hoping the run will be over before you know it.
The two major governing bodies of the sport in the Unites States, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) and Unites States of America Track & Field (USATF) both advise against the use of headphones.
The RRCA decided in January 2009 to instruct race directors that to be covered by the RRCA insurance policy, races must not actively promote the use of headphones. In fact they suggest either stating: 1) The use of personal music devices is strongly discouraged or 2) The use of personal music devices is strictly prohibited.
USATF’s latest stance on headphones was released in a statement in December 2008. This statement specifically said that events, “may allow the use of portable listening devices not capable of receiving communication; however, those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money may not use such devices.” The rule had previously banned the use of headphones by all runners. This amendment maintained that headphones be ban for athletes competing in a USA Championship, but left the use of headphones under other circumstances up to the race directors’ discretion.
One race that is following the RRCA guidelines is the Oakland Marathon. On their race website, they specifically state that the use of personal music devises is strongly discouraged. They go on to say that, “those competing in the Oakland Running Festival Marathon will not be eligible for prize money, prizes, etc. if they wear a musical device while competing…IF YOU ARE CAUGHT WEARING A MUSICAL DEVICE, YOU WILL FORFEIT ALL PRIZE MONEY, PRIZES, ETC. You will retain your overall position in the race, however.”
At the 2012 Oakland Marathon the first woman across the finish line was later disqualified from the first place prize for wearing headphones. That meant that the second woman across the finish line, Pamakid runner Monica Zhuang, received the first place award, which was a trip to Hawaii. The first place woman is still listed as the winner of the race, but she had to forfeit her prize per the rules that were publicized on the race website. This woman was written up on SF Gate as an impressive race winner, winning for the second year in a row, this time just six weeks after giving birth to a baby girl. In the pictures of her crossing the finish line she is not wearing headphones, but in a pre-race photo on SF Gate she has headphones on and in some of the mid-race photos on MarathonFoto she is wearing headphones. The speculation is that she started the race with headphones and took them off at some point mid-race. Someone either saw her during the race wearing the headphones and reported her or after the race someone spotted the photos and reported her. Either way, she is not getting the first place prize.
I congratulate the Oakland Marathon race director for sticking to their policy and enforcing the rules. I have been told that in 2010, the race winner also had to forfeit their first place prize because of a headphones violation.
You can say that I am “old school” but for safety reasons, for the benefits of engaging in running, and simply because it’s the rules, I think leaving your headphones at home when you are outside running or racing, is the way to go.