On Friday, November 15, the governing body of global track and field (IAAF) unanimously awarded the city of Portland, Ore., the right to host the 2016 World Indoor Track and Field Championships. Former host city, Birmingham, England (2003), was the only other bidder.
The prospective dates would be March 18-20, a week after the NCAA Indoor Championships.
On the surface, this announcement will have little impact on the sporting world at large, and even among track and field aficionados it will probably generate little more than a ripple.
But Portland's winning bid has implications for the sport on multiple levels.
The immediate takeaway is that Portland becomes only the second U.S. city in history to welcome the world to an indoor championships. Indianapolis had that honor in 1987.
This, despite an overall American domination of the sport since the World Championships were instituted in 1983—which makes the fact that the USA has never hosted an outdoor world championships even more confounding.
Perhaps that sad commentary (from an American perspective) is about to change. And here is why:
Portland (and track and field in general) couldn't ask for a better PR team than TrackTown USA, headed by president Vin Lananna. His visionary energy and promotional prowess was the driving force behind two highly successful campaigns at Eugene, Oregon's Hayward Field—the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Through similar efforts, Eugene also nabbed the 2016 Olympic Trials.
TrackTown USA was the prime mover behind the winning bid to acquire the 2014 World Junior Championships for Eugene. And of course, it was Lananna's team that successfully argued the case in the unanimous decision for these very indoor world championships.
Add the political clout of the USATF (national governing body), the self-interest of Nike (world headquarters located just outside Portland), the influence of the many world-class athletes living in the Portland/Eugene area and the concentrated track culture of the region and...
Well, P.T. Barnum, on his best day, couldn't do better.
Make no mistake, the brain trust behind Portland's successful bid has much larger long-range goals in mind than a three-day indoor track meet competing for air time and column inches against March Madness. This is not to diminish the prestige and star power of a late-winter global track championships in an Olympic year.
To the contrary, the World Indoor Championships is a major yet manageable project and provides the perfect canvas for Lananna and Co. to portray to the world their expertise in organization, management and presentation.
It was wise to first pursue an easier target, with attainable goals, than say, an outdoor world championships right out of the chute. Even so, Lananna has made no secret that an outdoor world championships—an epic two-week extravaganza, surpassed only by the Olympic Games—is in his crosshairs for Eugene, 2019.
In that light, targeting the world indoors as a prelude to Rio 2016, and as a trial run of sorts for the scrutinizing power base at the IAAF, was a brilliant move.
Most track fans will tell you the sport is compelling and diverse enough to sell itself if presented properly. Today, U.S. track and field, having fallen from its former glory days into "niche" status, lacks knowledgeable and enthusiastic announcers at the mainstream media level.
Getting a global championship meet on American soil will ensure a more prominent emphasis within the U.S. media and hopefully attract the expert analysis that the task demands. Given the late winter timing, this can only help to dispel the myth among casual fans that track and field exists only for the quadrennial summer Olympic spectacle.
Also, with new leadership at USATF (CEO Max Siegel is a former entertainment/television guy), perhaps a little political persuasion can help the networks understand that minimal field events coverage, midrace cutaways and shallow post-race interviews do not advance their product.
The "home track" aspect, if nothing else, will place the sport within the collective consciousness of the American public like no overseas venue could. After all, is there a casual American sports fan who could tell you the 2012 World Indoor Championships were held in Istanbul, Turkey?
Didn't think so.
Within the borders of the United States, Eugene is the consensus mecca of track and field. Holding the 2016 World Indoors 100 miles away in Portland will only strengthen that designation because an underlying matrix consisting of shoe giants Nike and Adidas plus a slew of elite track clubs in the Willamette Valley has firmly solidified the Portland/Eugene connection over the years.
This is one reason why Hayward Field in tiny Eugene has had more than its share of high-profile, world-class meets. Portland is close enough geographically to act as the international travel hub and alternate lodging option for big meets.
If Portland and TrackTown USA can pull off a grand success with the World Indoors, other potential sites within the U.S. will be taking note. Already there are tangible efforts in places like Des Moines, Iowa, and Sacramento, Calif., to emulate Eugene's unique global appeal.
And where genuine civil competition exists, the product only gets better.
The irony of Portland's selection lies in the fact that not a single 200-meter indoor track currently exists in the state of Oregon. Owing to Lananna's sterling performance record, his team and the USATF were able to sell the city based on blueprints and promises.
The massive 400,000-square-foot Oregon Convention Center, situated on the east bank of the Willamette River, will house the meet with all its amenities. The track itself, with proposed seating for 8,000 fans, will be constructed to IAAF standards in the adjacent exhibition hall.
The City of Roses and the state of Oregon will be the most obvious beneficiaries of this global event. But looking at the bigger picture, opportunities abound to permanently elevate track and field within the spectrum of sports in general.
Let's not miss them.
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