Portland wins 2016 world indoors

MONACO — The U.S. team has long been No. 1 in the world in track and field.

Hosting the world in track and field? Not so much. The U.S. has not played host to a major championship since 1992, in Boston. Before that, Indianapolis staged the world indoor championships, in 1987. Of course, Atlanta and Los Angeles put on the Summer Olympic Games. That was 1996. And 1984.

To say that this has been a recurring sore spot with track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, would be putting it mildly. When, oh when, would the United States — and, more particularly, USA Track & Field — ever step up?

On Friday, Portland, Oregon, won the right to stage the 2016 world indoor championships, USATF president Stephanie Hightower asserting that under the direction of federation chief executive Max Siegel and in concert with TrackTown USA president Vin Lananna there is energy and synergy to “rebuild the brand of track and field in the United States.”

The winning team. See decathlon champ Ashton Eaton back left and distance champ Hicham el Guerrouj back right.

The IAAF Council awarded Portland the 2016 event amid a spirited campaign that also saw it give Birmingham, England, the 2018 world indoors.

The UK is now lined up to stage the 2014 Commonwealth Games (in Glasgow), the 2016 world half-marathon championships (Cardiff, also awarded Friday), the 2017 world track and field outdoor championships (London, at the same stadium that staged the 2012 Games) and, now, the 2018 world indoors.

Talk about legacy from the 2012 Olympics.

The 2014 world indoors will be staged March 7-9 in Sopot, Poland.

Birmingham had staged the 2003 world indoors, IAAF president Lamine Diack at the time calling them the best-ever, and but for the fact of an American bid would probably have won going away for 2016.

“This is a sport that needs to nurture its roots in the United States,” UK Athletics chief Ed Warner acknowledged Friday after all the political horse-trading was said and done.

The IAAF’s “World Athletic Series,” which includes its major championships, is sponsored by adidas; the current deal goes through 2019. It sometimes can seem as though everything sports-related in the state of Oregon is underwritten by Nike. How the two will mesh come 2016 remains uncertain.

Warner also said, “I feel as though Christmas has come early for British athletics.”

For Portland and USA Track and Field, as well.

Teen middle-distance sensation Mary Cain announced here Friday that she would be forgoing college and turning pro, and would be based in, where else, Portland, with coach Alberto Salazar, and the Oregon Project, with stars such as Olympic medal-winners Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. Her plan, she said: “To throw myself into insanely fast races and have no pressure.”

The Portland 2016 plan:

A three-day meet in March 2016, tentatively March 18-20, the week after the NCAA indoor championships, at the Oregon Convention Center, with seating, Lananna said, for “8,400-plus.”

A new 200-meter track will be built and then, as a legacy of the event, repurposed for use — somewhere. It will be the only indoor track in the track-crazy state of Oregon, Lananna noted.

TrackTown USA served as the organizers for the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials at venerable Hayward Field in Eugene, on the University of Oregon campus. It will also serve as the local organizing committee for next year’s IAAF world junior championships, also in Eugene.

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials will be back in Eugene, based at Hayward.

All this begs the obvious:

It’s fine, maybe even great, that TrackTown has lit a — or, maybe more accurately, capitalized on the — spark in Oregon. There’s a lot of Nike money behind all this, in Oregon. At the same time, Oregon is a long way away from pretty much everywhere else. Anyone who has ever been to Eugene knows it is hard to get to. And almost no one who gets drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers ever goes, wow, that was my first choice.

When was the last time you ever heard any of your European, Asian or African friends say, gee, you know, I want to vacation in the United States and I think I’m going to go to — Portland? San Francisco, absolutely. New York, definitely. Disneyland, for sure. Portland? Get real.

Look, there are a lot of reasons to like Portland. Excellent coffee. Fine wine. Lewis and Clark. But it is not a major market, and to argue otherwise strains credulity.

If, as Hightower asserted, track and field is truly to be re-branded in the entire United States, it needs to think about a strategy that gets people where it’s at in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, the Bay Area, Boston, DC, Detroit, Seattle, Phoenix, Tampa, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver and on and on.

Asked about that, Siegel said “television properties” were in the works without offering more specifics. Lananna volunteered the example of the MLS Portland Timbers soccer team, saying that a few years ago it was nothing and now it draws “rabid” crowds in a “crazy environment,” adding, “We hope to do the same … we feel very confident we will be able to do take those same steps forward.”

Those would be giant steps, indeed, off a three-day track meet in an indoor convention center in Portland, which — let’s not forget — will be staged amid the hoopla of NCAA basketball March Madness.

It’s worth noting something else. Cain said Friday that when she was younger she was a swimmer and idolized Michael Phelps. Phelps, by putting himself back in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency testing pool, has taken his first steps toward being back in the water in Rio in 2016. Don’t kid yourself. This, in the sphere of Olympic marketing, is what USATF is likely up against in 2016, too.

Still, give USATF and TrackTown USA credit. This is its first step, a welcome step in bringing world-class international track and field back to the United States after more than two decades. It’s Portland, sure, but you have to start someplace, and that someplace has to be where you know it’s going to work.


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12 thoughts on “Portland wins 2016 world indoors

  1. I tire of the anti Eugene sentiment out among some blogger types like you It is NOT hard to get to for starters. Nor is Portland, which you have apparently added to the hard to get to sites.
    If NYC LA etc are such great places for international track meets, When will the bid for and hold them? It ain’t happening my friend. At least T & F has had and continues to have Eugene, the UO, and Oregon .
    Yes, I live in Eugene so you can claim bias. But take a look … The Diamond League meet in NYC might get 5,000 to attend each year. Great support among the 10+ million population!! . Put anything other than the Olympics there and you’d be lucky to get more. Yes T&F needs more sites for major meets than Eugene. At least Portland is 100 miles away so this is a step. What it REALLY needs is more and better exposure on TV. And there are a host of issues etc to solve to get that.

    • Yes, it is hard to get to. For most of the non-hub’d USA, it is 3 planes in and out. And airlines grow more difficult annually so increasing your chance of getting delayed, bumped, canceled, weather’d by 33% is no small thing. Also, by living in Eugene it’s unlikely that you have to fly in and out on big meet weekends?

      Eugene is Cooperstown in our sport. Small and out of the way. Pre or not, without Mr Knight’s checkbook, Eugene would not have the stranglehold it does on the Trials and other championships.

      Nike gives and Nike takes away. But consider, during the reign of Phil & Eugene, is the sport as a whole, healthier in this country? Most would say not. While you could argue that Nike and Eugene are the only thing that keeps the sport viable, that is sort of the “Valedictorian of Summer School”

      For things to improve, things must change.
      And no, TV properties are not the salvation either. But then Indy and Eugene sleep in the bed with the swoosh logo’d linens…

      • “Valedictorian of Summer School” – love it, and will be stealing it.

        Absolutely correct that TV is not the answer, nor is talk of “re-branding.” Of the 225 things on basic cable at any given time, we still have to give people a reason to choose to watch track instead of the other 224 shows (which will include reruns of Duck Dynasty). There’s no amount of lipstick that can go on the pig of track and field in its current (modern? sheesh, no) incarnation to make it popular, exciting and accessible to new audiences. A fundamental rethinking of how track and field is presented as a sports spectator experience is needed if we’re ever going to move on from these recycled conversations.

        • George, you’re wrong, better minds than yours or mine have discussed these problems for the better part of 3+ decades and no one has come up with a solution — and that is because there is no solution.

          A track league will not work. Putting lights around the track like an electronic rabbit for the runners to chase didn’t work…etc.

          The reason the lipstick won’t work on this pig, is that this sport does not speak to the American Public any more.

          It’s time to get out of denial — and in the process realize that Nike doesn’t have to do anything, they could withdraw from the sport entirely and still make massive revenues, and lose little ground to adidas and the rest, cos adidas and the rest are not going to subsidize as many athletes, no way, no how, as Nike does…complaints and all from athletes that wish Nike paid more etc. Collectively what Nike spends on athletes must dwarf what #2 sponsor spends.

          Back to our popularity problem. The society, er, culture, as it were, has shifted away in so many ways that it is just never going to shift back.

          Things can be improved by holding such events as Track Town and Nike are doing, but things will NEVER be fixed, and you are naive to think they could ever be fixed — in that you will never see 80-100,000 fans watching track like in the 60’s again, unless it is an Olympics, and that’s not track and field, that is once in a lifetime spectacle for the host cities.

          As in my other post, I am old enough to have had dinner with Jim Ryun and company at the birth of the ITA, and with Galen Rupp just after he went Pro, I have worked with all the major sports networks in producing track and field, and I have been in the room with almost every major stakeholder in the sport in the USA and at World Championships…and heard all their crunching on the issue of track’s situation in the USA.

          None of those people, with however many great minds, have ever been able to come up with something to regain the popularity this sport once had in the USA.

          Track and field news (it could have been RW) did an article eons ago announcing a “full contact indoor track marathon series,” where runners could employ full contact to prevent themselves from being passed…during a marathon on an indoor track. It was of course an April Fool’s joke, but the angry letters sent in… And the thing is, the kind of UFC MMA world we live in now…”full contact indoor marathon” might work on TV as lipstick on our pig.

          Just sayin’.

          …I don’t know what Vins ideas are to make track as popular as soccer is in Portland and Seattle, but frankly I don’t want those drunk soccer fans as track fans, because I don’t want drunk track fans. Vin may not have had to walk the streets into the stadium in Seattle or Portland, and sit in the stands…to realize that those events have become drunk fests just the way soccer matches are in many European countries…well the NFL is that way in some cities here too.

          The point is our sport is very different.

          You just have to accept that this sport has contracted over the past 4+ decades to a very niche sport, and some of you people need to get your heads out of la la land and accept it, and be grateful and appreciative that we have a Nike to loss lead spend on a few nice events once in a while.

          As for your thinking that “Valedictorian of Summer School” –defense is some worthy witticism accurately describing the conditions at play…well you may want to find a thinking cap and re-think that one.

          It’s a meaningless phrase, and while cute, it doesn’t get at the problem or the phenomena at all.

          The suggestion that somehow Nike and Eugene or any company or city could possibly be primarily responsible, let alone the critical factors at play for making track “healthier” or not healthier in the USA, over said time period — ignores a sea change of social, cultural, entertainment, technological and other changes in our society and culture to the point of ignorant absurdity.

          Claiming that the sport is not healthier over the time period of Nike and Track Town’s watch is a straw man argument of delusional absurdity.

          The challenge, the problems, are not that simple to be placed so squarely on so few shoulders.

          Again, the entire society and so many other cultural factors have changed. Just ask Paris Hilton.

          People need to get realistic. If Nike didn’t do as much as they do, the other companies wouldn’t have to do much but put their shoes in the stores and make profits off the halo effect of shoppers needing a pair of “kicks.”

          Nike lavishes a ton on the sport they were born out of, out of both love for the sport, and because they are lucky enough to dominate and make massive sums of money off of all the major USA sports you see on TV, and probably some money off of running too. But they could abandon pro track and be just fine. Nike doesn’t need pro track in the USA, that is a fallacy.

          Again, while I don’t much like their shoes any more, I respect the heck out of them for doing things like NXN and giving kids more than just footlocker, ergo, more kids are getting opportunities that didn’t exist when track could sell out the LA coliseum against the Soviets, or choose your halcyon example. Those days are more than long gone, and Nike could still make massive amounts of money with out putting back in amounts that dwarf what any of the other shoe companies are willing to do.

          –Special shout out to Brooks and Seattle who are doing new things too.

          But again, you’ve got to accept that this is now a niche sport, a small niche sport at that, as a spectator sport.

          The problem of converting the participants in the sport to showing up and being spectators has not and will never be solved nation wide.

          You can complain, whine, bemoan, MOURN or…you can appreciate and love what is…just like you do when you find a great wine from a tiny niche winery that no one has ever heard of.

          –Track and field as “private reserve.”

          I’ve come to accept it as such; and I’ve come to accept that none of us track lovers are big enough to effect the change we’d love to see.

          And, again, actually, if you look at the medals in the past few years in mid distances and distances, track is healthier for Nike’s involvement.

      • Ken, you offer no solutions, just tired old complaints. Other cities have tried and failed. There are no other companies willing to prop up the sport like Nike does.

        Grow up about the travel complaints. I’ve traveled most of the world, and sometimes I’ve had to leave a day earlier than I wanted, get up at an ungodly hour, take a prop jet to another city, country, island, and then a small jet to a bigger city, and then a real jet to a real city…you can whine about it or see it as an adventure. Don’t be so spoiled, people in many parts of the world have to make a lot of connections to get to a special event.

        You want to complain, and imply that it is bad that USATF and Eugene are in bed with Nike.


        I’m old enough to have had dinner with Jim Ryun while he was in the ITA and also with Galen Rupp just after he turned pro.

        You want something to really carp and whine and complain about?

        Imagine a USA track and field if Nike took their money out.

        No one less than a Saucony athlete/employee said that if it were not for Nike there might no longer be a Pro track and field in the USA.

        Sure, some of the former Nike athletes complain that they didn’t get paid enough / offered enough… But Nike ipso facto subsidizes the entire sport here so that an Adidas only has to sponsor a few athletes, a New Balance can cherry pick.

        You want to really have something to complain about? Envision track and field in the USA without Nike.

        Is Nike perfect? No. I’d like them to change a lot of things, but that isn’t my call.

        I am going to be realistic and notice that adidas isn’t going to fit the bill, New Balance isn’t, nor Brooks, Saucony, whoever…they all know they have it good, in some sense riding off a fitness and sorts culture that Mr. Bowerman and Mr. Knight helped build in no small ways.

        It’s not ideal.

        It’s just what happened.

        Take away Nike, and you’d be begging for them to get back into bed with Indy and Eugene.

        Until, and unless something changes in this culture to make track and field popular again — and that is never going to happen — this is what you have.

        For my part, since life is short, I intend to appreciate what Track Town, Nike and others do for the sport, and be happy for what we have left.

        Celebrate the athletes.

    • I agree with you Jon. I suspect I may know who you are, lol.

      Yes, it would be wonderful if more cities in the USA could pull off what Eugene, and now Portland are doing.

      And you are right, it just ain’t happening.

      Our society has changed, and our sport has declined in popularity.

      I too think the complaints about Eugene being hard to get to are over blown, the “there’s nothing to do in Eugene” and all the rest of the carping. For all those people, there are tons of people who come, have a great time, and enjoy the best of what Eugene, the Oregon Coast, and Portland have to offer.

      I love our sport… The past few years I’ve been at meets in Seattle, Eugene, and Stanford. It’s a beautiful sport when understood and appreciated consciously.

      There has been too much complaining every time a new event is awarded to Eugene, TT, and now Portland.

      Des Moines was great for Drake, and an embarrassment for USA’s. I give them credit for trying…but Alan, instead of including the complaints every time…how about flipping the script and praise and celebrate the wonderful times people have in Eugene, the great atmosphere, I never hear these complaints from people in the stands or the athletes. I see tons of tweets, instagram photos, blogs from kids, expressing adoration and joy for their mecca’s to Track Town, Pre’s home town etc.

      It’s the best we got, and there is a lot of good.

      You are on a new tack with that “spark” thing, and I think — even though sadly I think few people see this article — that the law of attraction applies — write about all the good stuff at these events — make it attractive for people to come to the sport — rather than a general sports fan reading about a sport that complains about itself way too much.

  2. Hi Alan:
    Good column, you raise excellent points….But don’t forget that USA also hosted these MAJOR events:
    The IAAF World Racewalking Cup in both 1987 (Central Park NYC) and
    1991 (San Jose.)
    Cheers, Elliott Denman

  3. While you raise some interesting points, but have no idea what you are talking about implying it is a 3 plane trip to PDX from most of the U.S.

    I travel extensively throughout the country on business from Portland and can’t remember any 3 plane trips. For the vast majority of people in non-hub locations, it is a regional flight to a hub and from there a flight to Portland.

    It’s only a 2 plane flight for most Europeans as well through Amsterdam. Perhaps you should consult Kayak.com or a similar site to educate yourself on your options. Furthermore, you might be interested to know that Portland is swarmed with European tourists all Summer long.

      • Refer back to my comments; I’ll agree with you that you could see Eugene as a 3 flight pain to get to from a lot of places. That’s certainly one way to look at it.

        Or, you can look at it like a world traveler, where a lot of fine places you would like to go to have a great experience, take some planning and extra long travel jumps to get to.

        But, you know, I wouldn’t trade Monaco, for the freaking long flight it is to get to from the West Coast of the USA for the great time I get to have there at a meet, or then some days in Nice. I wouldn’t trade the pain the ass it is to get from Fuerteventura(sp) back to meet up with friends in Paris.
        It’s a slog to get to many world championships, and you know, the closest thing to a WC’s we get in the USA is the USA’s.

        You just have to realize that your sport is not like the NFL, or NBA, or MLB where most major metro areas have teams.

        It’s a niche sport that usually takes special effort to get to.

        You can be unhappy about it, or you can embrace it, bring an extra good book, and look forward to some good eats, wine, beer, and beauty at the Oregon coast, or whatever.

        The PNW has much to offer.

        It’s just the way it is, the sport does not have any other cities that or companies that love it enough to do these big events, or attract…and do you realize how non trivial it is that TT got the World Junior Championships in the USA? Do you realize what a gamble that is for Eugene and Nike money??? I’m not sure that one makes money for TT, it will for the independent business owners…but I am not so sure it will for TT, inc. As Alan alludes, it may just be fanning that spark and trying to iteratively grow bigger and bigger events in the USA again.

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