World juniors could help position Eugene for track and field's top prize

by: COURTESY OF KATHRYN BOYD-BATSTONE/TRACKTOWN USA - Vin Lananna (right), president of TrackTown USA, welcomes guests, including IAAF Council member Abby Hoffman (left) and Essar Gabriel, IAAF general secretary, to Hayward Field, site of the 2014 world juniors track and field championships.EUGENE — It was a bright and sunny day, the kind where you can see well into the distance from Hayward Field. Or, in this case, was it well into the future?

A collection of dignitaries gathered Thursday at the entrance to Hayward Field to talk about some major events to come over the next two years for Eugene, Portland and track and field in the United States.

The first of these events — the 2014 world juniors championships — is only four months from the starting blocks. The finish line for the ripple effect of what already is on the docket in Oregon could come in 2019 — if Eugene is able to bid successfully for the world outdoor championships and become the first U.S. site ever for that prestigious meet.

First up, though, is the world juniors meet, July 22 to 27 at Hayward Field. It will be the event’s first appearance on U.S. soil. The 2012 championships took place in Barcelona. An estimated 2,200 athletes, coaches and officials from about 170 countries are expected in the Eugene area, with some teams conducting training camps nearby leading up to the meet.

“This is history in the making,” said Essar Gabriel, IAAF general secretary, during a Thursday-Friday visit to Eugene with other track and field officials.

Gabriel said it was easy to choose Eugene as the site.

“The history, the soul and the spirit of track and field in the United States is in Eugene,” he said.

The 2014 world juniors championships are for athletes 19 and younger (anyone born Jan. 1, 1995 or later). The event could have a $50-million economic impact in the Eugene area.

"We're so proud. We're really looking forward to welcoming the world to our friendly community. We want them to get to know the most passionate track and field fans in America," Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy said.

Springfield Mayor Chrstine Lundberg said her city was "thrilled to support" the world juniors, adding, "What better event can you have than a world championships for youth to encourage our kids to be healthy, to be out, to be active?"

“This is a very important event to us,” said Abby Hoffman, a former standout athlete from Toronto who is part of the 27-member IAAF Council. “These are the athletes who will be the stars of tomorrow, and are already very outstanding. And the iconic and inspiring nature of this venue is going to add flavor and extra significance to this event.”

Hoffman said that trying to rate Hayward Field on a typical 1-5 scale, like is used to grade European hotels, "really doesn't do justice to the facility."

The "wonderful environment" and other factors in Eugene "gives us the makings here of a terrific event," she added. And the proximity of dorm and other housing makes it convenient for the athletes, most of whom will walk only a short distance to Hayward Field.

"I'm sure they will love it," Hoffman said.

Organizers hope for large crowds, not always part of world juniors held in other parts of the globe.

"This place will be packed, and the atmosphere will be terrific," Hoffman said.

As for TrackTown USA's ability to produce this summer's junior fest and the wisdom of picking Hayward Field for the 2014 championships, "I'm sure we will be proved right," Gabriel said.

Hoffman noted that the organizers are working now on details such as the post-event party for the athletes at Matthew Knight Arena.

"When you get to that, you know it's all coming along very well," she said.

"We know it's in good hands," added Renee Washington, USA Track and Field chief operating officer.

"I get the sense that we're really, really on track," Gabriel said.

Vin Lananna, TrackTown USA president, said he believes fans will quickly warm to the juniors competition this summer.

"When the first kid shows up and we raise the flags of the countries, just as they do at the Olympic Games, this community will embrace the event," he said.

Organizers hope for large crowds, not always part of world juniors held in other parts of the globe.

“This place will be packed, and the atmosphere will be terrific,” Hoffman said.

The world juniors are just part of what will be a huge year for track and field in Eugene.

“Maybe the best year ever,” Lananna said.

In addition to the Oregon Ducks’ regular-season competitions, the historic venue will play host to the annual Prefontaine Classic May 30-31, the NCAA outdoor championships June 11-14, the U.S. junior championships July 5-6 and then the world juniors.

The July 5-6 meet will determine members of the U.S. world juniors team, with the top two finishers in each event qualifying for the world meet.

The final day of the junior championships will coincide with the Eugene Marathon/Run.

The track and field focus continues in 2015, when Hayward Field will again be site of the U.S. outdoor championships in June.

Then it’s on to a big year of 2016, with Portland playing host to the 2016 world indoors in March and Eugene welcoming back the U.S. Olympic Trials in July.

The world indoors are set for three days (dates to be determined) at the Oregon Convention Center.

This meet has been held in the U.S. only once, in Indianapolis in 1987. The 2012 world indoors were in Istanbul, Turkey.

More than 600 athletes from 212 countries will come to Portland for the competition in 13 men’s and 13 women’s events.

The IAAF awarded the 2016 world indoors to Portland at its November 2013 meeting in Monaco, with the 2018 championships going to Birmingham, England.

How did Portland land the world indoors?

Washington said that beyond the “rich tradition” of track and field in the U.S. and in Oregon, “the bid presentation in Monaco was fabulous.” The presentation, she said, emphasized “the uniqueness of the event and the diverseness of the people involved.”

Can Portland pull off a great result in its first attempt at such a major track and field event?

“A lot of thought went into that,” Washington said. “There was a lot of back and forth, and debate. We’re confident we can do it.”

The 200-meter track will be built inside the Oregon Convention Center, with 7,000 to 8,000 seats brought in around it.

“The set-up will create more of a theatrical performance, with the stands nearly on top of the track,” Lananna said. “Track and field is the mother of all sprts, and we believe we will be able to create a great atmosphere there.”

The 2014 world indoors is taking place this month in Sopot, Poland (population about 40,000).

Gabriel, a French sports administrator and consultant who was Chief Operating Officer for Paris’ 2012 Summer Olympics bid, said he came away impressed after his first visit to Portland on Wednesday.

“It’s a really beautiful city,” he said.

He got a look at the convention center and some hotels, as well as the Multnomah Athletic Club.

“There was a real sense of excitement from every person I met about the world indoors,” he said.

Both the 2014 world juniors and 2016 world indoors could serve as a boost to the sport in other parts of the U.S., and create needed interest and growth in the sport.

And, the success of those two IAAF meets, perhaps especially the world juniors, may impact a bid for Eugene to land what would be the biggest sporting event in the state’s history — the 2019 world outdoor championships.

The 2015 world outdoors will be in Beijing, and the 2017 meet is booked for London. The IAAF is expected to award the 2019 event at a meeting in November of this year — and so the international governing body will be watching closely to see how the 2014 world juniors do in Eugene and whether the area shows well on the international stage.

“Both world juniors and the indoors in Portland are going to be good markers for us,” Lananna said.

Hoffman and Gabriel listed some main criteria for receiving a world outdoors championship:

1. A facility with at least 30,000 to 40,000 capacity.

“With the stadium filled for most of the event,” Hoffman said.

Hayward Field currently can get to only 21,000, with expanded, temporary seating.

2. Suitable accommodations

Gabriel said the world championships likely would bring 4,000 to 6,000 media members, 2,000 athletes, as many as 2,000 coaches and officials and 4,000 to 6,000 international guests. Eugene would have to find adequate hotel space and transportation options for them.

3. A first-class organizing committee

“There is no question — zero — that Eugene has that,” Hoffman said.

4. A plan that would guarantee the event financially.

“In other parts of the world, the country is typically the guarantor, but that’s not the usual mode in the U.S.,” Hoffman said.

Gabriel summed it up this way:

“To host a world championships, it would take a desire, a vision and a plan. Here, certainly a desire and a vision is within the culture. The plan would have to be designed and put forward.”

The major figures at Hayward Field on Thursday all agreed on the benefits of bringing major track and field events — including a world outdoor championships — to the U.S.

“We were delighted when Portland received the world indoors,” Hoffman said, “and we think it’s really important for the development of our sport that the world (outdoor) championships eventually take place in the U.S.”

Said Gabriel: “The world (outdoor) championships taking place in the U.S. would be very welcomed by the IAAF. It’s a bit of an anomaly that the No. 1 track and field country in the world has not hosted the championships.

“It’s the third-largest sporting event in the world, behind the Olympic Games and soccer’s World Cup,” he added. “It has five to eight billion TV viewers. And it would have an incredible economic impact.”

And it could come — in 2019 or beyond — to Eugene and the state of Oregon.

“Eugene is on a bit of a path now,” Hoffman said. “It’s pretty obvious that there’s only one big prize left for it.”

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