I stumbled across a great two minute video over on The Grio that featured world-class track & field athlete Sanya Richards-Ross. In the video, Richards-Ross explained that what inspired her to pursue a career in track was a tightly contested 100-meter Olympic final, which produced a photo finish, with the U.S.’ Gail Devers edging out Jamaican Juliet Cuthbert by 0.06 seconds to capture the gold.
Commenting on the feeling of elation that was quickly dashed after the official Olympic results came through the wire, Richards-Ross inadvertently broached a subject that has had the track & field world in a tizzy — photo finishes.
Two weeks ago at the U.S. Track & Field Trials, the women’s 100-meter final had a similar close call. This one though ended in a tie between training partners Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix.
Egregiously, the USATF, track’s national governing body, had no plan in place to deal with this situation.
Track officials scrambled to come with a solution, which resulted in the two ladies having to pick between a coin flip (officials damn sure knew neither athletes were going to leave it up chance, like they were some character in Batman) or a run-off.
Accordingly, the USATF choose to stage a primetime spectacle to satisfy NBC’s ratings lust, the two women’s sponsors, and track & field fans alike.
But it was apparent that Tarmoh was a reluctant participant in the run-off during NBC’s choreographed interview after the two ladies had finished their 200-meters competition, which is Felix’s specialty. In the interview, Tarmoh eyes were glossed over and voice cracked as she co-signed with the exuberant Felix, who had just won the 200-meters final in convincing fashion, setting the world-lead in 21.69.
Later on in that same night of the interview, Tarmoh sent a letter to Felix, the USATF, and the media, expressing her discontent with the run-off and explaining that she felt “boxed in” by the USATF’s decision.
“In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot. I almost feel like I was kind of robbed,” Tarmoh relayed in her statement to the Associated Press.
Who can blame her for feeling like that? Well, it didn’t take long for sports writers and anyone with an opinion to weigh-in, mostly calling Tarmoh a quitter. A quitter seems harsh, considering she competed in every round of every event she specialized in at The Trails.
A few weeks ago, Ms. magazine published the results of a study that measured the gendered reporting in the media — particularly in NBC’s coverage (NBC owns the American broadcast rights to the 2012 Olympic games). The University of Delaware study found that lots of NBC’s coverage was littered with sexist remarks and race-baiting.
And right on cue, the Washington Post’s columnist Tracee Hamilton thought Tarmoh could learn how to compete from South African paralympic star Oscar Pistorious and swimming Torres, who just missed making her sixth U.S. Olympic swimming team.
Disregarding that neither of those phenomenal athletes have anything to do with this particular situation, that doesn’t stop this writer, or other writers, from calling Tarmoh a coward, a quitter. Playing up these two noble white athletes only emboldens more acrimonious women to fit comfortably within the hegemonic male power structures that seek to diminish the accomplishments of women athletes, and trivialize the tenets of sportsmanship.
By calling Tarmoh a quitter, it helps reduce her to an object, a horse without a jockey. I now understand how their male contemporary, 100-meter specialist Justin Gatlin — who should know, more than anyone, how much hard work and dedication his ex-girlfriend Felix and Tarmoh put in during the year in order to create that particular moment — felt it was cool to joke that the two ladies should “mud wrestle” for a spot in the Olympics.
The contempt Gatlin holds for women’s athletics is nothing new and is actually shared by advertisers, sponsors, the media, and the fans. Yes, the fans who cheer these ladies yet condone and are complicit with the coverage of the sports they purport to love.
I get that Allyson Felix’s multi-million dollar Nike contract, toothy smile, caramel skin, world-class talent, and likelihood to medal dictates where the USATF’s loyalty rests, especially in a sport that only receives attention every four years, but to push a young lady into a corner and claim disappointment after she feels slighted and “robbed” shows that the USATF and we have learned nothing from the Penn State scandal: people are always more important than the institutions.
Interestingly, although her former countrywoman lost to Devers, Richards-Ross didn’t mention the loss disparaged her dream of becoming a track star. Maybe the run-off could have attracted a few extra young girls who may not have seen the first race, but if the studies hold true, NBC would have found a way to reduce these women’s run-off to a stroke of luck.