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Coach Bob Kersee discusses the Felix/Tarmoh controversy

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Bobby Kersee: 'In my heart, I couldn't separate it'

Veteran coach of Allyson Felix, Jeneba Tarmoh shares feelings on dead heat

By: Joe Battaglia,
NBC Olympics
Jul 4, 2012

Coach Bob Kersee discusses the Felix/Tarmoh controversy 426854_m14
The photo that launched a nine-day controversy:
The dead heat in the women's 100m between Allyson Felix
and Jeneba Tarmoh, training partners under coach Bobby

EUGENE, Ore. –– The one common denominator, beside their identical times of 11.068, between Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix in their dead heat in the women’s 100m at the Olympic Trials is their coach, Bobby Kersee. We sat down with the veteran mentor, who has produced at least one gold medal at every Olympics since 1984, to get his feelings on the situation.

NBC: What are your thoughts on what transpired here with regard to the run-off?

Kersee: The only thing I told Jeneba and Allyson was that you have different agents and to allow the agents to handle it. And that I didn’t believe in the coin flip, so it comes down to individual decisions. Don’t put it in the hands of the USOC. Either you concede your position, or you run it off. If it comes down to anything past that, legally or what not, then you deal with that. The only thing I didn’t want was a coin flip and I did not want the athletes to concede their position. Either you run it off or you go from there.

Considering that Jeneba just conceded her position on the team, do you feel her manager gave her bad advice?

I am not going to bad mouth anybody.

Do you have a problem with Jeneba conceding her spot to Allyson?

I have no comment on that one. What I would have done in Jeneba’s position was make a decision, and she made it.

Why did you not take a more active role in counseling the two women during the decision-making process?

What I said from the beginning is that I told Allyson and Jeneba that I would not get involved in the decision-making process. What I did tell them was that the only thing I wanted to make sure of was that they didn’t run on Sunday, which they did not do. I met with Jeneba, Allyson, both of their managers, and the powers that be at USA Track & Field and my opening statement was that I did not want them to run on Sunday. Whether they gave up their spot, or did a run-off or a coin flip, I was not going to be involved with that situation.

But as one of their trusted advisors, why wouldn’t you want to be involved?

Like I said, these are both of my girls. If both of these girls were my daughters and they were both drowning, I’m going to jump in the pool and save them both, and if I drown so be it. If I’m drowning now, so be it.

Did you feel like any mistakes were made in this situation?

Whatever was called by an official, you go with and then you play the game. That’s just the bottom line. The only thing that I argued with in this was do not run them off on Sunday because you were going to jeopardize their health. Whether the call was wrong or right, I had to step in and say that I don’t want those girls running four days in a row. If I was a coach in the NFL or the NBA and there is a league lockout, I can’t tell my players to bring their asses to practice and give less than (expletive) to what the league says. I’m stuck. That’s what happened here. I was stuck in the middle and I thought I handled it right.

Based on what you have seen and read, do you believe a mistake was made in the reading of the photo finish?

I’ll be honest with you, I can’t separate it, one way or the other. It would be different if I thought one way or the other, but I couldn’t separate it. Me and my brother Dennis used to fight all of the time. I like war movies. My brother liked cowboy movies. There was only one Zenith TV in the house. When we start fighting over whether it was going to be ‘Run Silent, Run Deep’ or ‘The Guns of Navarone’ my daddy would always say, ‘As long as you don’t fight in the house, I don’t care. You take it outside.’ As a parent, you can’t separate it. Well, in my heart I truly couldn’t separate (that photo). I don’t know if my eye was wrong. I know for sure that I couldn’t have any favoritism.

Were you given the opportunity to review a blown up image of the photo finish?

I was, and I told them I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t look at any papers. I looked at what happened at the end, on the track, and left it right there on the track.

There have been a lot of conspiracy theories floated in the public about Nike influencing the process. To the best of your knowledge were there financial incentives for Jeneba to concede her spot to Allyson?

As far as I know, no.

This has the potential to be a dividing rod between Allyson and Jeneba in training camp. Do you foresee any problems coming out of this?

There shouldn’t be. Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Gail Devers broke the American record (in the 100m hurdles) back and forth about two or three times. At the end of the day, and still today, they are friends because what they know is you’ve got to be competitive. If you beat me, you beat me, but what does that have to do with the realism of life after sport?

That said, in talking to Jeneba she said that part of her rationale was that she enjoyed all of spoils of having won her spot on the team. Did you sense that was a major factor in her decision?


Had Allyson and Jeneba run-off, what would you have done?
I wouldn’t have watched. I would have taken a walk and then waited for you to call me to ask me, ‘What do you think?’

I asked Jeneba is she thought USA Track & Field did a good job in managing the situation and she said she felt they did given the short time they had. How do you feel?

It was a unique situation.

But, given the uniqueness, was the situation handled well?

What was not handled well, in my estimation, was that they should have come out immediately, realizing that the girls were going to run three 200s in a row, and told the girls, regardless of what their decision was going to be, that it was not going to happen on Sunday.

In your opinion, how could USA Track & Field not have had a tie-breaking procedure in place?

Because nine times out of ten, this doesn’t happen. What we are going to learn from this is that if it does happen, you look out for the best interest of the athletes.

Jeneba said was that she made a decision based on what she felt in her heart and she was at peace with it. If nobody lets her alone on it now, how can she be at peace with it?

I can’t answer that. What I will say is that is why I did not want Allyson or Jeneba to have to deal with the media until after the 200m.

As their coach, do you believe that moving forward the best thing for both Jeneba and Allyson is to put this situation to rest and not have legal proceedings or anything that could become a distraction before the Games?

To the best of my knowledge, they have already put it to rest. I think they realize that.

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