(Eugene, OR) - Site of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Any other week and I could easily be on a bummer.
It's early June and my legs are still pale from a longer-than-normal winter. The closest motel vacancy I could find is 50 miles out of town. Long lines in every restaurant mean I'll be brown-bagging dinner. The Eugene forecast calls for even more cool, showery weather.
But this week, it's just too perfect...from an Oregon perspective.
Green Bay's Lambeau Field has its frozen tundra. The Boston Garden had its legendary unheated, smoke-filled visitors' locker room. Coors Field, in Denver's thin air, is a hitter's paradise and a pitcher's hell.
And Eugene's Hayward Field has its own set of quirks that always seem to translate into precious team points for its beloved Ducks.
That advantage may well prove to be the difference in 2010 with Florida, Texas A&M and Oregon in contention on the men's side and Texas A&M and Oregon the favorites on the women's side.
The very Hayward experience, which will surely benefit Oregon, ironically offers every other athlete an atmosphere in which to excel. The facilities and meet organization are second to none, and the knowledgeable fans will appreciate and reward any high-level effort, in spite of a strong Duck bias.
However, there are some features about this particular meet in Eugene which may not be kind to visitors.
Let's take a closer look:
Apart from the fact that Oregonians have webbed toes and exhibit rusty skin rather than golden tans, those physical characteristics do not affect performance. The cool, damp weather predicted for this week does, however.
Oregon athletes expect it, live in it, train in it. Just as the stifling humidity of the qualifying meet in Austin last week was a physical shock to the Oregon contingent, the milder climate of the Willamette Valley may seem harsh to those accustomed to heat and humidity.
Generally speaking, warmer weather is more favorable to the short sprints and jumping events, and cool weather better suits the mid-distance and distance events.
Oregon's main strengths are in the multi -events (decathlon, heptathlon) and mid-to-distance events. The Ducks' primary rivals are strongest in the jumps and sprints.
While it is true that everyone must compete under the same conditions, wouldn't a few raindrops in the face, or puddles on the track favor a Duck?
Interruption of Routine
Athletes who have made it thus far in qualifying are akin to finely-tuned machines. Any external modifications to that tuning can affect performance.
Imagine a shot putter attempting to find sleep on a tiny hotel bed. Or a coach setting up a makeshift office on a card table in the hotel's conference room. Or a runner, not familiar with Eugene's vast trail system, trying to get in some road work on Franklin Avenue—between red lights.
As hospitable and convenient as the local community has tried to make the Hayward experience for visiting athletes, life on the road is an inconvenient distraction.
Meanwhile the Ducks have had almost two weeks of sleeping in their own beds, resting, preparing, focusing.
It's one thing to battle on the home front—quite another to battle on foreign soil.
As in times of war, when a combatant takes the fight to an enemy's homeland, he wages battle not only against resisting soldiers, but against an entire nation—a whole different culture and way of life.
And so it is in Eugene. The Duck athletes will provide their own fierce resistance, but entrenched in the entire community is an intangible (albeit very real) back-up force as well.
Waitresses, gas station attendants and grocery clerks will all have an ear tuned toward Hayward.
Eugene is, after all, Track Town, USA.
Oregon's Magic Moment
There is another advantage less directly related to the home field. It's more a matter of timing.
Several Oregon seniors have been a part of an upward-climbing program for four years. The year 2010 presents to them a rare opportunity: a very realistic last chance at winning a major national championship—both men and women—before their home fans.
The unusual alignment of circumstances in this particular year makes Oregon's home field advantage an even more compelling force.
In this regard, motivation and impetus can't get much stronger for those seniors.
And just for good measure, throw in a large dose of the ever-present Hayward magic.
Coming from a native Oregonian, its not an easy thing to say, but I almost feel sorry for our visitors.
Considering the number of international athletes in the American collegiate system, this meet will represent the closest thing to a world championship in 2010. Both the men's and women's competition should be tight with no clear-cut runaway winner.
While this article is unabashedly biased, the trophies will have to be earned on the field of play. All due respect goes to every athlete who made it to Eugene. These are the best of the best.
For Track and Field athletes and fans, it really does not get much better than this. The stakes are high and the tension is thick. The venue is perfect, the gun is up.
Live TV coverage on CBS: Friday, 8:00pm(E) and Saturday, 1:00pm(E)
Lead photo: AP
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