Oregon's Hayward Field: Echos of the Past, Visions of the Future

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2010

New is nice.

But there's a pristine, untouched quality about something new which elicits a hesitation to touch, dent, stain or mar. It's only after that first tiny, defiling scratch that we can finally relax and use the thing.

Then, through the slow process of accumulation, the marks of use develop within the thing a certain character.

Like an old pair of jeans, or a classic car, or an heirloom rocker, the hardness has softened, the roughness has smoothed, and it just feels right.

Through decades of exposure to the abrasive forces of competition and the weathering of endless assaults on greatness, the very timbers, track, and turf at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field are permeated with character.

To compete in or witness a track meet at such an historic place as Hayward...well, it just feels right.

The grand old facility has presided over no less than 15 world records through the years.

Not to take away from the younger, more modern track and field sites around the world. They certainly have their state-of-the-art facilities and perhaps even greater seating capacity than Hayward's modest 16,500.

It's just that Hayward Field, like no other venue, has found a way to perfectly blend the old with the new. Through several renovations over the years, the surfaces and facilities at Hayward are second to none. Yet the old, covered East Grandstand remains from 1925, still quite functional, as a reminder of past glory.

And then, there are the fans.

The echos from that East Grandstand still resonate from many a backstretch duel as world-class distance runners began their final kick. The great marathoner and former Oregon distance runner, Kenny Moore once spoke concerning the Hayward crowd, "...the competition was tight, and everyone was screaming, and it was as if your own will was suspended and the crowd's wishes just took over."

From the backstretch the noise only gets louder, as runners round the turn into the jaws of the roaring West Grandstand and the final straight. Another Oregon legend, Alberto Salazar described the feeling, " I'd heard about the great connection between the crowd and the runners: how the crowds would chant and stomp their feet in unison... I think what makes Hayward Field so special is that you get people out there in the stands who have grown up on track and field. They are very knowledgeable. They know what's going on, and they have a love for the sport."

Indeed, the surrounding city of Eugene is populated with track and field "nuts" and is often referred to as "Tracktown, USA." With numerous scenic trails and a moderate year-round climate, Eugene is truly a runner's paradise, and many of the world's best runners have come there to study, compete, and live.

It seems as though its always been that way. The University of Oregon has arguably spawned more world-class distance runners per capita than any other institution worldwide. The likes of Moore, Salazar, Bill Dellinger, Dyrol Bureleson, Rudy Chapa, Joachim Cruz, Steve Prefontaine, and most recently, Galen Rupp have all left a deposit of greatness on the sacred grounds of Hayward.

The women as well have done their part in adding to Hayward Field's seasoned character. Leann Warren, Kathy Hayes, and Claudette Groenendaal, to name a few, have all inspired Hayward's savvy crowds.

Apart from the distance races, other Oregon athletes such as Otis Davis (400m), Mel Renfro (440 yd relay), Jerry Tarr (120 yd hurdles), Harry Jerome (100m), and Mac Wilkins (discus) have left their mark, not only in the confines of Hayward, but on the world stage as well.

Hayward Field was named in honor of Bill Hayward, whose coaching career spanned four decades, from 1904 to 1947. He was followed by a virtual "Who's Who" of collegiate track coaches: Bill Bowerman, Bill Dellinger, Tom Heinonen, and Vin Lanana, present coach.

But even with all the incredible talent and performances which have graced the hallowed emerald icon, to many fans, Hayward Field itself is the star attraction.

Since 1967, with the completion of Autzen Stadium for football, Hayward has been a track-only venue. It features a level infield with side-by-side runways for pole vault and horizontal jumps and dual-event stations for high jump and shot put.

The track is polyurethane BSS-2000, rated Class 1 (the best) by the IAAF.

Eight light standards, each 110 feet high, support 540 lamps—more than adequate for television—and are adjustable in three stages according to need.

A huge elevated videoboard, 30' x 17', dominates the southwest corner. Under the West Grandstand lies a sheltered training and warmup facility.

Hayward Field truly is a jewel in the crown of international track and field.

Beyond serving as home field for all the Oregon Duck's meets, Hayward has a history of hosting some of the most prestigious meets ever:

 ~ Four US Olympic Track and Field Trials
 ~ The 1960 US Olympic Decathlon Trials
 ~ Seven USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
 ~ Ten NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
 ~ The 1980 National Women's AIAW Championships
 ~ The annual Prefontaine Classic (international)

As storied and rich as Hayward's legacy is, its future is just as bright and promising:

 ~ 2010 Prefontaine Classic (Diamond League Meet)
 ~ 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
 ~ 2011 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
 ~ 2012 US Olympic Track and Field Trials

Like a sponge not yet saturated, the walls and corners of Ol' Man Hayward wait for yet another year of competition to soak up more of the rich essence of history.

In 2010, Oregon's newest stars like Ashton Eaton, Brianne Thiessen, Andrew Wheating, and Jordan Hasay (and others) will no doubt give him what he wants.

Memorable Hayward Moments:

July 8, 9 1960 —Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang, teammates at UCLA, finish one-two at the AAU Championships, both breaking the existing decathlon world record (old scoring tables). They would duplicate that finish at the Rome Olympics in one of history's epic duels.

July 16, 1982— Mary Decker, a late entry in the 10,000 meters, demolishes the world record by 42 seconds (31:35.3) before a frenzied Hayward crowd.

May 27, 2001 —Hicham El Guerrouj runs a 3:49.92 mile, fastest on US soil. In the same race, high-schooler Alan Webb breaks Jim Ryun's 36-year-old record, 3:53.43.

June 8, 2008— Maria Mutola, who loved the Hayward experience, won her 16th straight (and final) race in the Pre Classic; 12 wins at 800 meters, three at 1000 meters, and one 1500 meters.


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