The field trials to the women’s 100 meter dash for the London olympic games had a little unusual twist: Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh had the same result of 11.068 seconds. Three runners will represent the US in this event. The problem is that Felix and Tarmoh finished together at the third place. I read contradicting articles regarding whether the USA Track and Field, who is in charge of the procedure of choosing the representatives, did or did not have a rule to handle such a case. In any case, it was decided that both athletes will be given the choice of a run-off or a coin toss to determine the final representative.
I will let the poor runners and the USATF solve the issue of who will represent the US in the women’s 100 meters in London. What interests me is what Bobby Kersee, coacher of both Felix and Tarmoh, thinks of the suggested solution of flipping a coin.
Yahoo reports that Bobby Kersee told the Associated Press that “Nine times out of 10, most athletes aren’t going to want to flip a coin. Would you go to the Super Bowl and after two overtimes or what have you, have the referees take both coaches to the middle of the field and say, ‘We’re going to flip to see who wins the Super Bowl?’ I don’t see that.”
Why not? Suppose that a game does not end, like the three-month long quidditch game or the 6 overtimes basketball game between Indianapolis Olympians and the Rochester Royals in 1951. Does driving the players to death make more sense than flipping a coin? After all, the way players play when exhausted does not resemble their usual play, and it might well be that eventually the result is as random as a flip of a coin. It is easy to make a case for play-until-the-end. But sometimes, as in the Felix-Tarmoh case, such a solution might not be feasible due to various constraints, like deadlines and other races. In that case, why not flip a coin?