x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The 50/50 Olympics?

Luck is often the decisive factor in sporting competition. It should never, however, be the only factor.

Sporting competitions are often decided partly by chance and, on some occasions, by nothing except luck. In 1968, before the introduction of penalty shoot-outs, Italy advanced to the final of the European Football Championship by beating the Soviet Union on the toss of a referee's coin after the semi-final ended in a 0-0 draw.

There have been other instances of teams advancing, or losing, on the vagaries of a coin toss or the drawing of lots. But when it is individual competitors, who have always stood on their own two feet, a 50/50 toss to the winds of fate seems absurd.

But this is the scenario that is may face Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh, the two 100-metre sprinters who finished in a dead heat (at 11.068 seconds) for the third and final qualifying spot on the US women's Olympic team. Facing this unprecedented situation, US Olympic officials decided on Sunday that the place will be awarded either by a run-off or a coin flip. If the runners disagree, then a run-off is mandatory.

Felix and Tarmoh have dedicated their lives to competing in the Olympics. A run-off is the only way: for the winner, the satisfaction of qualifying on merit; for the loser, avoiding a lifetime of what might have been.