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Eugene Looks To Export Track And Field Prowess


The past weeks' Olympic Trials were a massive undertaking. The 2021 World Championships will bring events at Hayward Field to another level. That's the goal for the nonprofit Track Town USA, which aspires to expand the sport nationally. Eugene is preparing to package its track enthusiasm and deliver it to other cities.


The World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2021 will give Hayward Field its widest audience yet. They are the crowning event in odd years between Olympic Games, and will be the largest sporting competition in the world that year. Track Town USA and USATF, the governing body of track and field, hope the exposure will help grow the sport in this country.

Andrew Wheating participated in the 2011 World Champs in South Korea, and the Olympics in Beijing and London. He says world meets are different from the U.S. Trials:

Credit Karen Richards
Andrew Wheating

Wheating: “It's a lot tougher competition. 'Cause, in the national events, you'll get a couple of stragglers who are just happy to be there, but World Championship events, everyone is there for the same reason. Being there isn't the reward, everyone is there for a medal, so the tension's going to be a little higher.”

Five years may seem far away, but there's a lot to be done. Before the city can host the world, it must meet certain standards. Logistics for security and housing need to be worked out. Massive, privately funded renovations to Hayward Field begin this fall, to make it capable of seating 30,000 people. Nike pledged $13.5 million for this, partially contingent on matching donations. Much more fundraising is needed. Track Town USA has said it will request $25 million from the increased state lodging tax for other expenses. Positive economic impact from the event is estimated at more than $50 million dollars.


Credit Karen Richards
Amby Burfoot

Most people in the Northwest know Eugene as a track Mecca, but it's also famous globally. The long-running Prefontaine Classic attracts world-class competitors each spring. AmbyBurfoot is the Editor at Large of Runner's World magazine:

Burfoot: ”The athletes around the world have heard of Eugene, even if they don't know the place. They may be quite astonished to get here and find out that it's not a towering city with 87 story buildings downtown, but they will love the track and love the sophistication of the fans.”


Burfoot says Eugene is clearly the American track community where the 2021 championships belong. Wheating says his sport is not a major draw in the U.S., but it's very popular in other countries:


Wheating: “In the world, track is up there in the top five so people will come from outside, because there's just something about it around the world that they fully understand what they're watching.”



Credit Karen Richards
John Lape plans to bring two sons to the London World Championships next year.

John Lape of Portland is an avid track fan. He's been to the past 10 World Champs and has already signed up for the next three. He says 2021 may face its toughest hurdle because track and field is a major sport worldwide:

Lape: "I think the biggest challenge Eugene will have is cutting it off at 30,000. I mean, the international people will want to come to Eugene because they've heard about it for decades.”


Most everyone agrees the eager crowd and experienced volunteers will help Eugene host a successful international meet. Long-term, Track Town USA president Vin Lananna says he wants the excitement generated from 2021 to motivate other cities to vie for competitions.


Lananna: “Clearly, it's one of the goals of Track Town USA to take this and transport this model, have it be able to be scaled and be in a position where we can go to New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Portland.”



Credit Karen Richards
USATF CEO Max Siegel.

USATF CEO Max Siegel also wants to bring on other venues. He says he's starting to see traction:

Siegel: “I've had recent meetings where someone said, 'Okay, if we wanted the 2024 trials what is it that we need to do between now and '24 to demonstrate that we have the capability and the capacity to do that?'”


In securing the 2021 world bid, Eugene proved its commitment to meet international standards. Track Town USA will debut the Track Town Summer Series late this month with geographic expansion in mind. In future years, a televised circuit of meets on the east and west coasts will expose viewers nationwide to the sport. Athletes, fans, and promoters hope Eugene's energy, and the Hayward Field magic, can boost the audience and participation in track and field. 

Karen Richards has been a KLCC reporter since the fall of 2012.
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