NBC executives must be giddy thinking about all of the viewership the Olympic Trial storylines are garnering. From Michael Phelps losing to up-and-coming Ryan Lochte, the mounting pressure of pseudo star Lolo Jones, to the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt losing not once, but twice and of course the infamous tie between Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix in the women’s 100 meter dash.
Their finish was so indisputably close that a much lauded race off was scheduled for primetime television Monday night. USATF president Stephanie Hightower hoped the spectacle would help cover up the recent black eye of the performance enhancing and doping allegations that surround the sport. To her chagrin and the surprise of everyone else, the run off turned into a walk-away as Tarmoh bowed out of the race and conceded her Olympic dream.
Her resignation has caused a ripple effect throughout the media and has undermined the traditional glory and never-say-die attitude of both the Olympics and sports as a whole.
Instead of fighting to be a hero, Tarmoh has chosen to play the role of victim. In an interview Sunday she stated “In my heart of hearts, I just feel like I earned the third spot. I almost feel like I was kind of robbed.”
They might have mistakenly announced her a winner in Eugene, but she has proven herself to be a sore loser now. Representing one’s country on the world stage is more than a privilege, it is an honor. As the photo finish shows, Felix is as deserving of a claim to that third spot as Tarmoh. To come within one-one-thousandth of a second of the Olympics and to turn her back is not only sad but baffling. She wasn’t robbed, Tarmoh simply gave her spot away.
Jesse Owens, U.S. track and field legend and Olympic great once said, "If you don't try to win you might as well hold the Olympics in somebody's back yard. The thrill of competing carries with it the thrill of a gold medal. One wants to win to prove himself the best."
Nothing would have proven her the rightful contender amongst Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Madison in London than winning the race off.
Young athletes are catechized the values of determination, perseverance and never giving up. Tarmoh sets a disappointing example and defied the spirit of winning and the spirit of the Olympic games—compete at all costs and never quit, much like gymnast Nastia Luikin demonstrated earlier this week at San Jose’s HP Pavillion.
The defending gold medalist was already staring down the reality of a dead career when things went from bad to worse. She took an embarrassing, and probably painful, face plant on the uneven bars but found the courage to chalk up and keep going:
Getting up after a fall is never easy. It's always very tough. It shows your true character if you are able to get up and that's something I've been taught since I was eight years old."
After night one, interviewers pestered, "Why don’t you just scratch and call it quits? The writing is on the wall."
“That’s not the kind of person I am. I’m a fighter,” responded Luikin.
If young athletes follow Tarmoh’s lead, moments like Greg Louganis’s gold medal in Seoul (1988) or the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 World Series title will be replaced by Jay Cutler’s 2011 NFC Championship Game or a pouty Santonio Holmes refusing to play.
Her walking away from the race is a shameful way to end the track and field trials.
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