Over the past several years, due to the hard work of thousands of tireless volunteers, world-class officials, and a long list of loyal stakeholders, we have witnessed a rebirth of the sport of track and field in the Eugene-Springfield community.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field remain at the core of this remarkable renaissance.
Who will ever forget the improbable hometown sweep in the final of the men’s 800 meters in 2008? Or the tears of joy that flowed after Ashton Eaton’s 9,039-point world record in the decathlon in 2012?
Together, those two amazing events drew hundreds of thousands of fans to historic Hayward Field, rekindling memories of the famed coaches and iconic athletes who first set the standard of excellence in performance.
This summer, beginning with the men’s and women’s combined 20K race/walk in Salem on June 30, we get to do it again. From July 1-10, the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials return to TrackTown USA for the third consecutive time and the sixth time in history.
What will be the transcendent moment? Who will tap into the magical connection between fans and athletes at Hayward Field to deliver yet another unforgettable performance?
I can’t wait to find out.
Besides the actual competition, in which the top American men’s and women’s athletes (both young and old) strive to fulfill their Olympic dreams, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials promise to be memorable for other reasons. The end of the meet will signal the beginning of the transformation of Hayward Field. The planned renovations will turn the iconic stadium into a modern, comfortable venue that will allow us to continue to be innovative in the presentation of our beloved sport, while at the same time maintaining the authentic and historical integrity of the spiritual home of track and field in this country.
Originally built in 1919 as a football stadium, a six-lane cinder track was installed two years later, which allows us to celebrate our 100th anniversary of track and field at Hayward Field in the summer of 2021, when we host the IAAF World Championships.
For us, it will be the opportunity of a lifetime.
We started down this path two years ago when we hosted our first international meet—the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships. We expanded our footprint to Portland last March with the highly acclaimed 2016 World Indoor Championships at the Oregon Convention Center.
Along the way, we have seen the University of Oregon grow into one of the most powerful collegiate men’s and women’s track and field programs in the country, collecting 13 NCAA championships, indoors and outdoors and between the two genders, over the past eight years. The Ducks have also rewritten the record books in sweeping the Pac-12 men’s and women’s conference team titles for the past seven seasons. Similarly, Oregon Track Club Elite has grown into one of the best post-collegiate training groups in the world.
We continue to engage the local community through our free TrackTown Tuesday town hall meetings at the Downtown Athletic Club, our Sunday morning TrackTown Fitness gatherings at Hayward Field, and coming later in July, the inaugural meet of the TrackTown Summer Series. Today, with the Trials back in the Eugene-Springfield community this summer and the NCAA Outdoor Championships scheduled at Hayward Field until at least 2021, we need to maintain our momentum.
How do we accomplish this?
First of all, we must continue to embrace the importance of innovation. We achieved a lot of “firsts” in Portland—moving the medal ceremonies outside the competition venue to engage the community; “rock star” treatment for athlete introductions prior to each final; a stand-alone pole vault competition; and multiple youth initiatives in which we touched the lives of more than 10,000 youngsters.
If we want to grow the sport, create new fans, and inspire the next generation, our challenge is to build on these achievements. We must continue to find creative ways to present our sport, and to keep shining a spotlight on the amazing athletes who are at the center of everything we do as an organization, as a community, and as worldwide leaders for positive change and growth in the sport of track and field.
Vin Lananna is President of TrackTown USA, 2016 Olympic Head Coach – Men’s Track and Field.