Billy Mills

Eugene: track ghetto or capital?

Eugene, Oregon, is a beautiful little town. It has many virtues. The issue at hand is whether it ought to be the track and field ghetto of the entire United States. A more charitable way to put it, of course, would be to call it the track and field capital of the United States.

Decathlon champion Ashton Eaton practices earlier this year at venerable Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon // photo Getty Images

Because after the announcement this week that the NCAA Division I outdoor track championships from 2015 through 2021 will be held at venerable Hayward Field, there's little doubt that Hayward, and Eugene, and for that matter, Oregon, are poised to be -- if not flat-out are -- at the epicenter of the track and field scene in the United States for essentially the next decade.

Query: is that a good thing?

Hayward staged the 2013 NCAAs. It will play host to the meet next year. Going through 2021 will make it nine straight.

Each year in late May or early June, Hayward puts on a Diamond League meet, the Prefontaine Classic. In 2014, Hayward will be the site of the world junior championships; in 2015, the USA nationals; and in 2016 -- just as in 2012 and 2008 -- the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Meanwhile, Portland -- just up the road -- recently won the right to put on the 2016 world indoor championships.

In Portland, the Oregon Project, with coach Alberto Salazar, is home to some of the world's leading runners, including Mo Farah, Galen Rupp and, now, American teen sensation Mary Cain. Olympic and world decathlon champion Ashton Eaton and Nick Symmonds, silver medalist in the 800 meters at the 2013 Moscow world championships, headline the list of athletes who in recent years have come out of Eugene.

Depending how you see it, this week's NCAA announcement is either brilliant or yet another turn in a disturbing trend to further niche-ify track and field -- to consign the sport to a distant corner of America, to a remote college town in the late-night Pacific time zone where the sport is destined to get noticed every so often, if then.

It must be noted, of course, that track and field in Oregon revolves around Nike. Without Nike there is virtually nothing.

In its elation over the 2021 thing, the University of Oregon put out a news release that maybe was just a little bit over the top. It quoted athletic director Rob Mullens as saying, "Being the birthplace of running in the United States, Track Town USA offers the most unique experiences for both student-athletes and fans alike."

When the biographies of Jesse Owens, Glenn Cunningham, Jim Ryun, Billy Mills and other greats get around to claiming Eugene as the "birthplace of running," that will surely be news. As will the fact that the University of Chicago played host to the NCAA championships virtually every year, 13 times, from 1921-36 (they were at USC in 1934, Cal-Berkeley in 1935).

Meanwhile, giving credit where it is due: boosters of the move to see so much action in Eugene, like Vin Lananna, the farsighted senior university associate athletic director who is also president of the entity that is itself called TrackTown USA, envision Hayward being a permanent site for the NCAA championships, like Omaha, Neb., is for men's baseball, or Oklahoma City for softball.

And that's fine.

But there are two key distinctions.

One, Omaha's convention and tourism bureau, for instance, recognized that it was unlikely to be a so-called "big-league" town like nearby St. Louis or Kansas City. Those cities actually really do have NFL and Major League Baseball teams.

So to build the Omaha "brand," they aggressively sought the College World Series and have bid successfully in recent years for events such as the U.S. Olympic Trials in swimming. They are concededly after a wholesome, family-style vibe.

Eugene is hardly in competition with Portland or Seattle. And maybe track and field is after the family scene and maybe it's after the die-hard -- nobody is quite sure what audience it's after. That's for sure one of the challenges. Another of the many issues facing the sport is that, if you've never been to an evening at the track before, you often leave after three -- or more -- hours feeling you're not quite sure what you've just seen.

At any rate, the key distinction is this:

Track is the No. 1 sport at the Summer Olympics. You can like it or not, Omaha and Oklahoma City, but baseball and softball are no longer in the Games.

Moreover, everyone in Eugene and, for that matter, Oregon, you can this it or not as well, but the IAAF, track's international governing body, wants more in the United States. Way more. They look at this country, and they see New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami, big cities, all these huge and important markets, and the only activity seemingly going on of note is in Eugene, or Portland, and Portland is hardly a top TV market, and they ask -- huh?

And that, friends, is altogether a reasonable question if you want track and field to stop being a niche sport in the United States.

Tokyo 2020 support now 70 percent, up 23 from 47


TOKYO -- Headline: IOC survey shows local support for Tokyo 2020 now 70 percent, up 23 percent from 47 last year. The International Olympic Committee gave Tokyo 2020's bid a boost Tuesday with the release of those survey figures. At 47 percent, which was what the IOC measured in what was called the "Working Group Report" last May, Tokyo might as well have not bothered; the IOC likes to feel welcomed.

To be candid, 70 percent is still not rousing. But it's dramatic progress, indicative perhaps of the Japanese team's strong showing last summer at the London Games (38 medals overall). And it for sure puts Tokyo in the game; London's winning bid for 2012 only registered 68 percent support in London itself, according to the March, 2005, IOC evaluation report.

Tokyo's support nationally? 67 percent.  (London's support nationally in 2005? 70 percent.)

Tokyo also bid for the 2016 Games, won by Rio de Janeiro. At this point in the 2016 race, the Tokyo poll numbers: 56 percent support in Tokyo, 55 percent nationally.

Preliminary results for Madrid and Istanbul, the other two cities in the 2020 race, have not yet been made publicly available. The IOC will release the full results, methodology and timing in the Evaluation Commission's report, in July.

It's little wonder Tsunekazu Takeda, president of both Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese Olympic Committee as well as the lone IOC member here, said at a Tuesday evening news conference, "We are very happy to hear those numbers."

Real news -- like the release of such poll numbers -- is deliberately kept scarce in these commission visits.

Instead, the process is -- to repeat, by design -- a melange of sights and scenes.

The one question that everyone wants answered -- who is going to win? -- obviously is not susceptible to answer. No one can predict the IOC or the future.

Instead, at least for public consumption, this is mostly theater. Behind the stage, the commission is actually doing real work. But in front of the curtain, it is all carefully stage-managed. Six months ahead of the vote, which in this instance will be in Buenos Aires in September, the IOC drops into town for four days, giving the particular city a chance to promote its bid -- big-time -- in town and nationally. Such promotion can prove a key momentum-builder in a campaign.

What both sides, the bid city and IOC, want is a win-win. The bid city wants the local press to turn out in droves and to see the bid as serious and constructive. The IOC wants all bids to be seen as serious and constructive; that way, going forward, it encourages more bids from more cities, wherever they may be.

Here is a look around some of the sights and scenes in Tokyo, beginning with the proposed location of the Olympic Village:

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That big blue tower is an incinerator. It is said it would thoughtfully be turned off during the Olympics.

That blue mat-looking thing in the middle of the asphalt was a welcome sign for the members of the evaluation team. It was promptly stripped away as soon as they left. The white tent  -- which you can see, just behind the blue, in the middle of the photo, glinting in the sun? It was put there to keep the members of the commission warm and it similarly was taken down, pronto. By the time reporters were driven by, literally just a few minutes later, the poles were on the ground.

Next photo below: the proposed location of a whole bunch of venues, everything from volleyball to gymnastics to BMX cycling to wrestling (if wrestling makes its way back on the 2020 program, that is). Referring back again for a moment to the photo above of the proposed village, these venues would be located across the bridge that sits on the left of that picture; this is a main reason why the Tokyo venue plan is so compact.

Notice how these sites are obviously surrounded by water. The views would be outstanding -- just imagine the fireworks on opening night, evocative perhaps of the scene in Sydney in 2000. At the same time: is it an issue that the way in and out would be by bridge or, say, water taxi? No one likes to think of the worst case imaginable but that's what planners plan for ... especially in the Olympic business. What if?

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Next: here is Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose -- "I'm a Sunday tennis player, mind you'' -- rallying with London and Beijing Paralympic Games singles champ Shingo Kunieda for the benefit of the Evaluation Commission.

The contrast between Inose and the prior governor, Shintaro Ishihara, has been pronounced. Ishihara controversially injected himself into a diplomatic feud with China over a group of disputed islands. Inose has struck a different tone, indeed, not just playing sports but talking about them and  -- about harmony.

photo courtesy Tokyo 2020

The governor is himself a writer. He tends to find a message, and stick to it. His messages here have included:

His own triumph in the marathon (he ran it for the first time recently, in his mid-60s, after starting out by running just a few blocks around his house); the French literary theorist Roland Barthes, and Barthes' pioneering studies on semiotics, or signs and symbols; and the "sacred haven of nothingness" that is the imperial palace in central Tokyo, "at the very depth" of the Japanese spirit of hospitality, a green space surrounded by modernity, tranquility giving rise to all that is possible now.

"It's one of the elements that should never be forgotten," he said.

Also never to be forgotten is what it's like to travel in the pack that is the Japanese press. Here is the scene at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium Tuesday afternoon, just moments after the Evaluation Commission left, the pack interviewing table-tennis players Ai Fukuhara, 24, the team silver medalist in London, and Koki Niwa, 18, the 2010 Youth Games Singapore gold medalist who played in the London Games but did not medal. What would a U.S. ping-pong player give to be part of such a scene -- just once?

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Across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium sits the National Stadium, site of so much at the 1964 Games -- for instance, U.S. distance standout Billy Mills' unexpected gold in the 10,000 meters.

Here is the stadium:

photo courtesy Tokyo 2020

Above the facade to the stadium entry, chiseled into stone, are the names of all the gold medalists -- Mills, swimmer Don Schollander, boxer Joe Frazier, all the members of the U.S. basketball team (Bill Bradley, who would later become a U.S. senator from New Jersey, is memorialized as "W. Bradley"). This stadium is also where, on one night in 1991, Mike Powell long-jumped 29 feet, 4 1/4 inches, breaking the record Bob Beamon set in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics, 29-2 1/2.

There is history here. One of the dilemmas, should Tokyo win, is what to do with those stones because the plan for this stadium is to turn it into a fantastic spaceship-looking structure, at a cost of $1.9 billion, to be ready for the 2019 rugby World Cup and the 2020 Games.

History and the future, the "sacred haven" and what's next -- they exist right next to each other in jam-packed Tokyo. "The building must be re-born," Takeda said.

Here is the formal entry to the stadium.

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 If Tokyo wins, enjoy that view while you can. Because nothing lasts forever. Not even Bob Beamon's long-jump record.


An epic 10k in a hard rain

EUGENE, Ore. -- The rain here Friday was at times epic. It was cold and relentless. To make the United States men's Olympic team in the 10,000 meters, you had to run 27 minutes through that rain. You had to run hard and tough and push away pain and doubt. And a lot of history.

No American man has won an Olympic medal in the 10,000 meters since Billy Mills, in 1964.

Maybe, just maybe, watching Galen Rupp cruise to the finish line, his tongue out in a playful wag, a big smile as he loped down the home stretch at venerable Hayward Field, there is hope for London and 2012.

Rupp broke away with three laps to go to win in a Trials record 27:25.33. He closed in a final mile 4:13.

That 10k Friday was the fastest of the year by an American, and the 12th-fastest of all time by an American man.

"Mission accomplished," Rupp said afterward.

Matt Tegenkamp, who has been bothered by injuries for the better part of a year, took second, in 27:33.94. "Everything had a purpose this year and it was all pointed toward this race," he said.

Rupp's training partner, Dathan Ritzenhein, came in third, in 27:36.09. In January, he had finished fourth in the Olympic marathon. "That fourth-place finish made this all that much sweeter," he said.

To go to London, moreover, Ritzenhein not only needed to finish top-three but to meet the Olympic "A" standard qualifying time -- 27:45. He did so by roughly 10 seconds.

Coming down the final stretch, figuring he had third-place locked and also knowing he was going to beat 27:45, Ritzenhein said, "That's what make it all worth it."

The American distance running community is filled passionate, keenly analytical people. To say they have been waiting, and waiting -- and waiting -- for someone to come along and win an Olympic medal would be a gentle understatement.

There is analysis of -- well, almost everything. One of the best track and field writers out there, Ken Goe of the Oregonian, wrote a lengthy article this week that described how Rupp's coach (Ritzenhein's, too), famed 1980s marathoner Alberto Salazar, made some "big changes" to Rupp's upper body mechanics to help him "be more loose and relaxed while racing."

"We made a huge, huge jump over 10 days. The change is amazing," Salazar said.

Rupp, late Friday, laughed. "I think I'm just running taller."

Everyone understands that Rupp holds enormous potential.

He finished 13th in the 10k in his first Olympics, in Beijing. Last year, at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, he finished seventh.

For Rupp and for Salazar, if not for their critics, that's progress.

Late last summer, Rupp ran a 26:48 10k at a race in Belgium. That's the American record in the event.

Along with Ritzenhein, Rupp trains here in Oregon with Mo Farah, the British runner who in Daegu won the 5k and took second in the 10k. Farah is expected to be a major medal contender at the London Games.

The rain Friday? "It is what it is," he said. "You're still going to go out and compete, get the job done."

Rupp will run again here, in the 5k.

And then, in London. For sure in one race, maybe two.

"I don't know if it's my time," he said, then added with the maturity of a runner who knows that it might well be, "I hope to just be in the mix. You hope to be there with a lap to go. At that point, it's anybody's race. At that point, you give it all you've got. You just want to be there at the finish."

Galen Rupp answers his critics

The community that closely follows American distance running is full of zeal, snark and great passion.

Last week, in a race in Belgium, Galen Rupp broke the American record in the 10,000 meters, and by more than 11 seconds, finishing in 26 minutes and 48 seconds. That was his personal-best time, by more than 22 seconds.

Rupp's run was the fourth-fastest in the world in 2011. He is now the 16th-fastest man in history at 10k; his 26:48 is the 29th-fastest of all time.

Chris Solinsky had held the American record, 26:59.60, set in May, 2010. Solinsky's run was the 81st-fastest 10k ever run; Solinsky is now the 39th-fastest man in 10k history.

All those superlatives -- and what did Rupp get from the American track and field community?

Along with the praise -- a healthy dose of angst and criticism.

No American man has won an Olympic medal in the 10k since Billy Mills in 1964. There's a lot of pent-up emotion. Bring on the therapy sessions!

"Dear Galen Rupp: Time to Move Up to the Marathon," said one poster to the message boards at, criticizing Rupp's finishing kick.

As was duly noted, Rupp was blown away in the last lap of the race by eventual winner Kenenisa Bekele and Kenya's Lucas Rotich.

Bekele won in a world-leading 26:43.16. Rotich took second, Rupp third. Bekele, for the unfamiliar, is the world-record holder and arguably the greatest 10k (and 5k) runner of all time.

More than one critic also noted that Rupp was blown away at the close of last month's world championship 10k in Daegu, South Korea, finishing seventh.

Also on the message boards: the assertion that Solinsky's effort, at the beginning of the 2010 outdoor season, was just as good as Rupp's, at the end of the year and on a super-fast track.

The event in Belgium, in Brussels, called the Van Damme meet, is notorious for speed. Dating back to 1996, 12 of the 16 fastest 10k runners of all time have turned in their best at Van Damme, including Bekele's world-record 26:17.53, on August 26, 2005.

Wait -- there's more.

Alberto Salazar, the 1980s distance great who is now coaching both Rupp and Britain's Mo Farah in Oregon -- Farah won silver in Daegu in the 10k and gold in the 5k -- said the following in comments published on the IAAF, or international track and field association, website:

"… When you run World Championships in hot weather you've got to deal with it.

"But even though Galen is not a big guy he's still big compared to a Kenyan or an Ethiopian. It's a disadvantage if you are a Caucasian running in the heat versus an African, you just have more body mass and it's going to be harder."

What's an American record-holder to do?

First things first.

"I mean, I don't -- I don't think it has anything to do with being white," Rupp said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters, asked if it was a disadvantage to be a white runner in a discipline dominated by dark-skinned Africans.

"I think his point in saying that is more that I'm just a bigger guy than a lot of these guys," adding a moment later, "It's easier for them to stay cooler longer. I think that was the point [Salazar] was trying to make with that statement. You know, I agree with it."

As for his finishing kick -- Rupp agrees with his critics. He needs to get stronger.

It's a process, he said.

Farah has urged patience. Salazar has urged patience.

If there is anything the American distance community ought to understand, that's for sure it -- if there is to be greatness in the 10k, it takes patience.

Rupp, for instance, finished 13th in the 10k at the 2008 Olympics. To go from 13th in 2008 to seventh in 2011 -- that's definitely moving up, isn't it?

"Sometimes it takes time," Rupp said. "It takes years of doing a lot of strength workouts and to keep the same approach we have been taking. You have got to be able to finish fast in slow races to be able to close in fast races."

A couple years ago, he said, it was "hang on as long as you can." Now it's the "fun part, where I'm going to be there at the end."

He said, "For me to make that next jump, I have to be sound. I'm close to making that big jump. I think I have the pieces in place to do something well. I have great people around me and full confidence they are doing the right thing."