EUGENE, Oregon — First and foremost, Eugene is not TrackTown USA. That is an excellent bit of marketing. But everything is relative. This is a college town, and as track's worldwide governing body, the IAAF, comes to the United States for the first time in more than 20 years for a championship of any sort, it must be said, like it or not, this is most appropriately CollegeFootballTown USA. Anybody who tells you anything else simply picked a bad week to stop sniffing whatever might be in the air by the 7-Eleven at the corner of Franklin and Patterson.
Just a couple blocks away from that 7-Eleven, Hayward Field, site of the IAAF world juniors, which get underway Tuesday, is — to use the preferred term — venerable, the fans said to be knowledgeable.
Even so, the local football palace, Autzen Stadium, where the IAAF held a party Monday night, is insane on a college football Saturday. Let us recap the past few seasons: 2010 Rose Bowl, 2011 BCS championship game, 2012 Rose Bowl victors, 2013 Fiesta Bowl winners.
It’s Nike money that helped bring the 2014 world juniors here. That’s fine. You want to see what Nike money can really do?
Check out the Hatfield-Dowlin complex, the 145,000-square foot, six-story black steel and glass football "performance facility" that opened here last year. Where to begin? The special wood floors in the weight room, the individually ventilated lockers to eliminate odors, the infection-free surfaces, the barber shop, specially designated workspaces for pro scouts as well as the dogs of the press, foosball tables in the players’ lounge that were made in Barcelona, the same sound engineering in the lobby that is used at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and on and on and on.
Even the Eugene Register-Guard, the local newspaper, knows what’s what. Monday’s edition displayed a feature on sprinter Kaylin Whitney while helpfully offering a sidebar on 10 Americans to watch at the world juniors.
Even so, on that Register-Guard website's sport section's drop-down menu, you can readily see that track -- and kudos to the paper for even mentioning track -- is sixth on its priority list. After "local," which figures, what dominates? "Oregon Ducks football." Under blogs, what's first? "Oregon football."
Here is the dilemma:
There is no TrackTown USA.
Not New York, not Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Seattle, Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Boston, Washington, nowhere. Not Las Vegas. Not nothing.
If there were a TrackTown, there would have been a world championships here in the United States, the big deal itself, already.
The last major IAAF event in the United States took place in 1992, the cross-country championships in Boston. The world indoors were in 1987, in Indianapolis. The IAAF World Race Walking Cup was held in the United States twice, in New York in 1987 and San Jose in 1991.
Lamine Diack, who has been president of the IAAF for nearly 15 years, has said many, many times that he wished there could be a way to get it done in the States.
But how? What venue? Hayward seats 20,000-ish, max; that is not major league. How many hotel rooms are there in Eugene? Answer: not anywhere near enough. And have you tried to get to Eugene? It’s a long way from anywhere — 20-hours plus from Europe, as those on the IAAF’s ruling Council learned while slogging Sunday through jet lag and their meetings at the Valley River Inn.
Vin Lananna, who deserves a lot of credit for getting the world indoors to Portland in 2016 and is trying diligently to bring the world championships to Eugene in 2019, now calls Hayward Field the “Carnegie Hall of track and field.” He likens it to Augusta National and Wimbledon, trying to play it up as a destination, a place where, as he said at Monday’s news conference, “special things happen,” like Ashton Eaton’s 2012 world record in the decathlon.
Again, excellent branding.
Eugene as a "destination" is an intriguing concept. There's now a Five Guys burger place here. That's a positive. Also, the Starbucks by the P.F. Chang's at the Oakway complex now features that new Clover brewing system, and you don't find that everywhere. So -- whoo! If for some reason you don't like that Starbucks, there's literally another Starbucks across the street. Which is, you know, nice. Eugene!
Make no mistake: these world juniors are surely an event unto themselves, but they are here to serve as the trial run for those 2019 worlds. Eugene is bidding against Doha and Barcelona. The IAAF will choose the winner later this year.
Diack said at Monday’s news conference that the world juniors mark “an important moment for the future of track and field” in the United States.
Asked later how important a successful world juniors would be for the Eugene 2019 bid, he answered, “Let us see the six days,” a reference to how long the meet goes.
“That’s a lot of pressure, President Diack,” Lananna said with a laugh.
Again, give Lananna credit. Consider the sequencing: Beijing 2015. London 2017. 2019 -- another great world capital for the IAAF like ... Eugene?!
Perhaps, though, Eugene does win for 2019.
Nike money can do a lot of things — even perhaps cozy up in places alongside adidas money, with which the IAAF has long been familiar. Now that Nike and USA Track & Field are in business together until 2040, who knows how the world might change? Wouldn’t Phil Knight want to see the championships in the United States before time claims its inevitable reward? Perhaps there are other factors and strategies at work, political or otherwise, that will ultimately see Eugene emerge the victor.
Then again, if it’s just the ability to use money to get projects done — hello, Doha? The Qatari capital finished runner-up to London for the 2017 worlds. It’s probable 2019 would be a far-better time for Doha than 2021, which would be the year before the soccer World Cup and thus likely too frenetic. And Doha is now seriously in the business of staging world championships for any number of federations; the world short-course swim championships will be there this December, for instance.
A group representing Doha perched over the weekend in the lobby of the Valley River Inn, as the Council was meeting.
Look, it’s bid season, and that is all well and good.
It’s a good idea, meanwhile, to consider timing and context when examining what people say. Here, then, are two 2011 quotes from the senior vice president of the IAAF, Bob Hersh, who happens to be an American, when there was no U.S. bid underway, and none was envisioned, and perhaps this speaks to the idea of TrackTown USA, or any such thing.
Citing stadiums in Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle, Hersh said, “You look at large stadiums in cities that are big enough to host it,” meaning a world championships, "and they’ve removed the tracks.”
In that same story, he said, referring to the United States, “We just don’t have the wherewithal, starting with the fact that there is no stadium that could accommodate it.”
This, too, from Lananna, asked Monday to describe how Eugene got the world juniors: “It has long been a dream to host one of these world championships. We looked at what made the most sense on a college campus.”
Which this event does.