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BUT SOME DEBATE WHETHER TRACKTOWN USA SHOULD GET ALL THE BIG MEETS



TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Tori Bowie (second from right) wins the womens 100 meters during last week's U.S. championships at Hayward Field. Former Oregon Duck English Gardner (third from right) is the runner-up, with current Duck Jasmine Todd (second from left) third before her home crowd and UO teammate Jenna Prandini (right) taking sixth. EUGENE — TrackTown USA has its sobriquet for a reason.

It's consensus, if not unanimous, opinion that Eugene stages a track and field meet better than any other city in the country.

The U.S. Track and Field Association has acknowledged the city's superiority through the years by staging its major meets here.

The Olympic Trials have been held in Eugene in 1972, '76, '80, '08 and '12 and will be here in '16.

The U.S. Championships have been here in seven of the last 16 meets dating from 1999, including 2009, '11 and '15.

The NCAA Championships began a nine-year run at Hayward Field in 2013 that will extend to 2021.

Some college coaches question whether the latter event should be annually placed in Eugene, giving University of Oregon teams a decided advantage in attempting to win a team title.

The College Baseball World Series has a permanent location in Omaha, Neb., and the College Softball World Series has been held in Oklahoma City each year since 1997. But neither locale has a host team competing for a championship.

"We're not baseball, we're not softball," Florida track coach Mike Holloway said before the recent NCAA meet in Eugene. "We're coming here to compete against the best team in the country, and that makes it a little more difficult. I have to travel further than anybody. It takes 16 or 17 hours to come here and try to beat a team (with athletes) who slept in their own beds."

Like Holloway, Texas A&M coach Pat Henry praised Eugene's ability to stage a premier meet and the reception by the fans. He said keeping the city as the host site makes sense for now.

"Somebody else has to step up to the plate and say, 'We can do something similar to what they're doing in Eugene,'" Henry said. "I don't know who that is, and somebody has to prove that they can do it.

"Right now, this is very good for the sport. I just wish this site didn't have a horse in the race."

Former Oregon coach Vin Lananna, now president of TrackTown USA, has his opinion on the subject.

"The best place to have the NCAAs is in this community," he said. "I would bet if someone would ask the coaches of the majority of those teams -- instead of asking the same coaches every time -- you'd get a different answer. In a poll done by the NCAA, (the coaches') No. 1 importance is competing in front of a full stadium."

Is there another city in which crowds can approximate what they are at Hayward?

"Right now there isn't," Lananna said, "but I hope there will be."

With 10,746 on hand for Sunday's final day of the recent USATF Championships, four-day attendance figures were 38,795, an average of nearly 9,700 per session. Crowd counts for the NCAA meet were similar.

All of those interviewed during the USATF meet lauded Eugene's performance in staging the meet. There were varying opinions, however, of whether it should be a permanent spot for such events as the NCAA Championships.

"There are so many athletes who look at Eugene as a destination where they want to come to for big meets," said Dan O'Brien, the former decathlon Olympic champion and world record-holder who served as a television analyst during the USATF meet. "Fans here are more knowledgeable and more enthusiastic than about anywhere they go. The fans work together. They take the initiative from the beginning and say, 'We're going to lift these athletes up and help them perform.'

"The only drawback you hear about Eugene is hotel space and that there is not a central gathering place in the evenings for the athletes. They want to meet up on Main Street or the hot spots in town. That's the only thing that's missing here. But the positives far outweigh the negatives."

O'Brien said he is uncomfortable with one city as permanent host, mentioning that Fayetteville, Ark., was host of the NCAA Indoor Championships for nine straight years.

"There's no doubt there are some advantages here for the Oregon Ducks, just like there were for the Arkansas Razorbacks indoors," he said. "Arkansas won a few indoor championships because it was at their place. The same thing happens here. Oregon athletes don't have to travel, they sleep in their own beds, they're familiar with their surroundings. But if you ask where else would you want it that would have the stadium feel or the atmosphere, no place comes to mind."

Distance runners Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan love big meets in Eugene, but wouldn't mind seeing them spread throughout the country.

"I'll never say anything bad about Eugene," Goucher said. "They always do an excellent job. It's no coincidence that the NCAAs, the Prefontaine Classic, the U.S. Championships are all here right in a row.

"A lot of cities do a great job -- Des Moines (Iowa), Sacramento, Indianapolis. But there's something about Eugene that is unique. The athletes are embraced here. There's a lot of history here, and the knowledge in the crowds."

Having the NCAA meet in Eugene nine straight years, though, "is a little bit in excess," she said. "The fans will come to other places, too. Eugene could work with the other cities -- this is our model and how it works. I understand why Eugene always gets it, but the love could be shared and inspire the younger generation in other cities across America."

"Eugene has a world-class facility and fans," said Flanagan, the Portland runner who will compete in the 10,000 at the World Championships. "All the athletes feel fortunate when they get to compete here. People here are really into track. That's important to us."

But Flanagan, who grew up in Boston, thinks there are other cities that could serve as host.

"It's good to diversify and spread it out," she said. "There are some good venues on the East Coast that need to be explored, like (New York's) Icahn Stadium or (Franklin Field) in Philadelphia. The Boston Marathon is one of the biggest events of the year. There are a lot of fans there. Flip flop the meets from east to west every year, and it might be a good rivalry for who can host the best meet."

There are those, though, who think keeping the major meets in Eugene makes sense.

"This is the best place to compete," veteran shot putter Reese Hoffa said. "Great atmosphere. They draw great crowds. Everything about it is awesome. If other places want to have an NCAA meet, they have to compete with what they can pull off here."

"Right now, it's the only place that the U.S. championships and Olympic Trials should be," said Ryan Hill, the national champion at 5,000. "No other venue or fan base has stepped up near the level that Hayward and Eugene does. It's completely deserving to always be here."

"The nationals and NCAAs should be here every year, if possible," veteran high jumper Amy Acuff said. "I don't think you move it around. Why change a good thing?"

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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