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Olympics: Aly Raisman shows not all ties created equal
Olympics » Rules for tiebreaking differ among various sports.
First Published Aug 03 2012 10:49 am • Last Updated Nov 30 2012 11:31 pm

London • If only gymnast Aly Raisman had been a diver.

Then, she would have her bronze medal.

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Instead, the American teenager was dropped to fourth place in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition at the London Olympics — agonizingly out of the medals — on account of a quizzical and controversial tiebreaking rule that most fans did not even know existed.

"It’s a shame," her coach, Mihai Brestyan, said. "I don’t think it’s fair."

Even worse, it would never have happened in any other sport in the Olympics, where most sports either award duplicate medals to tied competitors or attempt to break ties with another race or competition.

The whole scenario is rare, to be sure.

By their very nature, many sports cannot wind up tied in the first place.

Team sports such as volleyball, basketball, water polo and soccer all necessarily produce winners and losers, as do the combat sports such as judo, fencing, wrestling and boxing.

Other sports are timed to the hundredth — sometimes, the thousandth — of a second, or judged to several decimal places, making it nearly impossible for two athletes to finish dead even.

Still, "it can happen," said Enrico Carpani of the International Cycling Union.


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And if it does, there are all kinds of ways to deal with it.

In Raisman’s case in gymnastics, the rules call for dropping the lowest apparatus score of each tied all-around competitor, and re-tallying their remaining three scores.

But because Raisman’s lowest score was higher than Russian Aliya Mustafina’s lowest, Mustafina wound up standing on the podium with a higher remaining score, while Raisman stood out in the cold.

"I’m more sad than angry," Raisman said.

Wait till she finds out that if she had been a diver who tied, she would have been awarded a duplicate medal. Two bronzes would have been awarded, in other words, according to international rules.

Same in swimming, where American Nathan Adrian almost ended in a dead heat with Australia’s James Magnussen in the 100-meter freestyle, with Adrian winning by a mere 0.01 seconds. Had they been tied, they would have each received a gold medal, according to an official with FINA, the international swimming federation.

Some sports, such as archery and equestrian, have extra rounds to break ties; there are shoot-offs in archery, jump-offs in equestrian.

In individual track cycling events, Carpani said, "we don’t give out two medals, but repeat the race."

Even in track and field, there’s a sensible solution — at least internationally.

USA Track & Field notoriously did not have a procedure in place to break a dead heat between sprinter Alyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the 100 meters, with a spot in London on the line at its Olympic trials in June.

But if runners finish at precisely the same micro-second at the Olympics with a medal at stake, international rules state that "the tie shall remain."

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