Track Town USA: Can It Really Handle the 2019 World T&F Championships?

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

Is Hayward Field ready for the ultimate track meet?
Is Hayward Field ready for the ultimate track meet?Don Ryan/Associated Press

Eugene, Oregon (Track Town, USA) is preparing to submit an official bid for the 2019 IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Barcelona, Spain and Doha, Qatar are also in the running to host the world's third-largest international sports spectacle, behind only the Olympic Games and soccer's World Cup.

To say such a bid on the part of Eugene's local organizing committee, TrackTown USA, is a bold move, would be an understatement. Think young David, with a slingshot against Goliath and his brother, hoisting spears and shields.

Indeed, tiny Eugene (pop. 156,000) and its hallowed Hayward Field seems a bit out of its league in a bidding war with international hubs Barcelona and Doha, both of which already possess Olympic-sized facilities.

But just as the biblical David faced the lion and the bear before taking on Goliath, so has TrackTown USA (the punctuation is slightly different than the city's nickname) honed its international organizational skills on the just-completed World Junior Championships. And then, another opportunity to sharpen those skills comes as TrackTown USA welcomes the world to the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships in nearby Portland.

However, as the general secretary of the IAAF, Essar Gabriel implied to Austin Meek of the Eugene Register-Guard, the World Outdoor Championships is a whole different animal. And, as Gabriel also noted, since there will be no Olympics or World Cup in 2019, the IAAF World Championships will singularly shine as the premier international sports event of that year.

That's quite an undertaking. The costs and the risks would be high, especially for a rural college town situated in the midst of miles of farm land and which seemingly has the most to accomplish—yet the most to gain.

Vin Lananna, former University of Oregon track coach and the dynamo behind TrackTown USA's many ambitious projects, accentuated the positives in this quote from Meeks' Register-Guard piece:

Think how exciting, how transformational it would be for this entire state, for the country, for the sport, if we were to do something as big and audacious as the World Championships in 2019. It's almost unthinkable!

Vin Lananna (L) and IAAF president Lamine Diack
Vin Lananna (L) and IAAF president Lamine Diack(Getty Images)

At first glance, three projects become evident as areas Eugene needs to work on in order to compete in the bidding process with Barcelona and Doha. Let's take a look.

Stadium Seating

Track Town earned its nickname in part due to its proficient ability to host America's most prestigious championship meets, namely, the USATF National Outdoor Championships and the NCAA National Outdoor Championships—particularly in the years when the U.S. Nationals also serves as the qualifying meet to select Team USA for the Olympics.

On such occasions, Hayward Field can utilize its most expansive seating arrangement to accommodate about 20,000 fans. Using the IAAF's own figures from last year's World Championships in Moscow, Luzhniki Stadium averaged 33,500 fans (not including athletes and media) in eight evening sessions, with a maximum gate of 44,000 on the final night of competition.

If Eugene is to be a successful bidder, it must prove it can provide at least double its present maximum capacity at Hayward. And that does not include seating for athletes, media and MVPs. Nor does it consider the extra domestic interest that hosting the first World Championships on American soil would generate.

If Eugene does indeed submit a bid, there will likely be local resistance to the structural changes necessary to transform the quaint and intimate atmosphere of Hayward Field into a 40,000 seat coliseum. It will require a well-conceived plan which must include future portability. Empty seats never look good in a televised event, and Hayward officials, ever cognizant of presentation and viewer perception, are careful to always arrange the seating to suit the particular meet.

And forget about installing a track at 60,000-seat Autzen Stadium across the Willamette River. Track Town's bid (and international appeal) has always been about Hayward Field. That's not to say Autzen and sites in Portland can't be used for specific events.

Lodging and Transportation

In 2008 and 2012, when Eugene hosted the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, local hotels were booked months in advance. In fact, late-comers were hard-pressed to find lodging within a 50-mile radius of Track Town.

It cannot be expected that the Emerald City would build new lodging options beyond its natural rate of growth. There would simply be too many empty rooms throughout the rest of the year, and that does not make good business sense.

Here is where the emerging concept of a Portland/Eugene track connection comes into play. The roughly 1.5-hour drive from Portland is not unreasonable if a free shuttle service were included in the price of a ticket. It's already a given that Portland International would be the air travel hub for out-of-state visitors. With Nike sure to capitalize on the global exposure, why not invite them to sweeten the deal for those fans willing to fly in?

And for those who prefer to drive themselves, there are plenty of lodging options along the Interstate 5 corridor between the two cities.

Parking in the vicinity of Hayward Field has long been a problem. TrackTown USA solved this problem during the World Junior Championships by providing off-site parking with frequent (and free) shuttle service. It seems feasible to utilize a similar service for an event as grandiose as the World Championships.

Presuming the 2019 Worlds is held in August, student housing on the university's campus might serve as a no-frills athlete's village. It worked fine for the World Juniors this past July, but would professional athletes be willing to hang out in the spartan furnishings of student dorms?

Or are there sufficient resources to just build a multipurpose athlete's village from the ground up?

Again, some creative brainstorming will be necessary to solve the logistics of getting people to and from the venue. On a positive note, Hayward Field and most of the local hotels are only a hop, step and a jump from Interstate 5, the main north-south artery. This means most fans will not have to endure a crosstown jaunt on public transportation.


Unfortunately, because of the high visibility a global extravaganza provides, politics, religion and just plain evil have all made their way into international sports. Considering the terror threats preceding last year's championships in Moscow, security is one area the IAAF (track and field's world governing body) will be insisting on having as a guaranteed provision.

The security aspect may not be a simple task to nail down. Remember that 2019 is five years down the road. Who can know what the world will be like then? Will drone surveillance be the order of the day in 2019, or will some new technology be in force?

Certainly for such a high-profile global event, state and federal agencies will be involved. It is not clear where the local organizing committee's responsibility ends and national defense or Homeland Security's begins.

It will be left to Lananna and his organizing committee to work out these and other technicalities. Presumably, that is the reason no definitive commitment to an official bid has yet been made. That, and the usual formality before making any major decision—a final searching of the soul and a counting of the cost.

Another process in the bidding game is an evaluation of the competition. Barcelona and Doha, great cities, each in their own right, are not without cracks in their armor. For example, Barcelona, the 1992 Summer Games host city, is still remembered for its huge 417 percent Olympic cost overrun. And Spain's economy continues to reel from the 2008 property-market crash.

Doha's scorching heat in August would certainly force it to propose a later date, sometime in the fall. This could be problematic as American football and the World Series will draw away U.S. viewers. Also, Qatar has aligned itself with known terror groups, which should arouse scrutiny.

All bids are due to be submitted by September 25. A decision will be announced on November 20.

Even though Eugene's official bid, if it does indeed come, would be the most conceptual in nature of the three, the IAAF would have a hard time discounting the validity of TrackTown USA's promises. By all accounts the World Junior Championships far exceeded the expectations.

The annual Prefontaine Classic also speaks for itself as the consensus premier single-day invitational meet in the world. TrackTown USA knows how to run a track meet.

Still...the World Outdoor Championships...in Eugene?

In Lananna's own words, "It's almost unthinkable."

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