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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Choosing your own decisionmaking processes

At Sunday's Olympic Trials in the women's 100m, there was a tie for third place (the final spot on the team). And now the question is how to break the tie, with the options being a coin flip or a run-off between the two women, Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh. But it gets more complicated, because the choice is delegated to the runners: If they agree on a process, they use that. If they disagree on their preferences, they use a run-off. And if no one expresses a preference, they use a coin flip.

This raises a couple of interesting issues:

1) As Miriam Cherry discusses at CoOp, Olympic officials have avoided making a decision (and having to provide reasons for the decision) by delegating the choice to the participants, something judges typically are unable to do.

2) Is there any doubt that world-class athletes will choose the run-off? And, if so, why? Is it fear of randomness? Is it a desire for control? Is there something unique about professional athletes that influences their choices?

3) Note the game theory element to this. If they state a preference and disagree, it's a run-off; if one or both decline to state a preference, it's a coin flip.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2012 at 01:41 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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Re: 2, why isn't the easy answer to the "why" question that a run-off will allow the winner to claim the title based on a test of ability, which is presumably the point of competing in the Olympics in the first place?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 27, 2012 12:55:30 AM

@Paul: The problem is it's not the test of ability each of them trained for. They each have had six heats of this event, and trained to include that within the rest of their racing (I believe both are competing in the 200m as well).

An athlete's training regimen might tailor their body to sacrifice endurance and the ability to recover quickly to maximize their sprinting speed, only to find that, in the event of a tie, they wish they had a bit more of those traits.

These two athletes turn out to be training partners. They know each other, and each other's bodies. They each must have some sense of who would fare better in an extra event. If they each think it's themselves, then it's easy. But if one thinks it's the other--or both think it's the other--why are they agreeing to a tiebreaking procedure that appears to disadvantage them over the 50% alternative?

Posted by: Tyler G | Jun 27, 2012 11:50:14 AM

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