Did Jeneba Tarmoh Get Jobbed Again? No. (A Very Short Explanation of Track & Field Relays)

Posted on August 11, 2012 by


Sean Newell makes the case over at Deadspin that Jeneba Tarmoh, who tied Allyson Felix for third in the 100m at the U.S. Olympics Trials, was screwed out of a place on the women’s 4x100m relay team. A very brief response:

1. It is hard to argue with Jon Drummond’s team selection when the four ladies chosen go on to shatter the world record — set by a quartet of (later discovered to be) cheating East Germans — by half a second.

2. Jeneba Tarmoh was screwed if split times were the only thing that matter in selecting a relay team. The U.S. women not won the 4x100m relay since 1996, but overall speed has not been the problem. The problem has been in the exchanges. Drummond selected the team he felt had the best chance of getting the baton around the track.

3. Why did Drummond think this particular quartet had a better chance that another collection of women? Probably because this same team absolutely torched a strong Jamaican squad at the Penn Relays a few months prior. Watch this race, and note two things: 1. The announcer’s comment that the United States has won the world championship of late when Felix has been included in the team and has more often than not dropped the baton when she has not been included. 2. With one exception, the exchanges were very solid. (42.19, by the way, is a very fast time for the Penn Relays — a record, in fact — because the event takes place so early in the track season.)

When I was 18, I spent three weeks in Atlanta covering track at the Olympics, and I remember Drummond himself make the case in a particularly lively press conference that the great Carl Lewis didn’t deserve to be on the men’s 4x100m team that year because he ran “butt naked last” at the trials. So speed and split times matter in relays. But they are not the only thing to consider when putting together a team that is going to win an Olympic gold medal.

It would have been nice, as Newell points out, had NBC bothered to explain any of this to its viewers.

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