If Not Eugene, Then Where?

In the last week or so, there has been some talk about whether or not Eugene should be the permanent host of the Olympic Trials. It was debated at NYRR.org and analyzed at The Oregonian.

As much as I have loved my two Olympic Trials experiences in Eugene, I’m solidly in the camp that believes the Trials should not have a permanent home. I think the Olympic Trials belongs to the whole country, and the whole country should have a chance at hosting and experiencing the meet.

If it’s not going to be permanently in Eugene, then where should it be? Here is my descending-order list of possible future Olympic Trials sites and their strengths and weaknesses.

1. Eugene

Just because I don’t think it should be the permanent site doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be able to host it again (and again and again). As of right now, it’s still the best place to host a big meet. So long as Eugene puts forth the best bid, it should win.

Strengths
Desire. Eugene wants this meet and badly, and hardly anywhere else does.
Organization. The Oregon Track Club is one of the very best track/road running organizations in the country and have this down to a science.
Atmosphere. It’s Track Town, USA. It’s been described as “Disneyland for track fans”. You can’t buy that kind of environment.

Weaknesses
Remote. You have two choices if you’re coming from any distance: fly into Eugene’s tiny airport, or fly into Portland and drive for two and a half hours. It’s easier to get to Amsterdam from most major US airports than it is to get to Eugene.
Small. There simply is not enough hotel space for everyone who wants to come. If Hayward Field’s seating is expanded as Vin Lananna has suggested, it only gets worse.
Repetitive. The same place again and again isn’t a problem for fans, media or athletes. Where it’s a problem is mostly in sponsorship. Meets like this can’t exist without corporate sponsorship, and while Nike puts up big money, reports earlier this year were that other corporate sponsorship was down. When the Trials are a new and exciting thing, it’s a little easier to sell.
Weather. Weather in late June in Eugene is generally very pleasant, but this week we’ve seen what can happen when it isn’t. Pollen counts are extremely high and can wreak havoc with athletes and fans suffering from allergies.

Des Moines

The host of the Drake Relays, Iowa state championships, and several recent NCAA and USATF championships is going after the big one.

Strengths
Desire. When the Des Moines Register has run several stories on the prospect of hosting the Trials, then you know there’s serious interest. As of right now, it appears that Eugene and Des Moines are the only two cities interested in hosting anything. All the USATF championships from 2008 to 2013 and all the NCAA Championships from 2008 to 2014 save one will be at one site or the other.
Organization. A major multi-level meet like the Drake Relays may actually be more difficult to do than the Olympic Trials. It takes an army of officials and volunteers, and in this way Des Moines is ready to roll.
Money. Eugene has Nike money, which is big, but Des Moines has insurance and banking money, which is on a completely different level. It’s unappreciated as to just how much big-time business there is in Des Moines; it’s the major financial center between Chicago and the west coast. When Des Moines hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 1999, it set the then-standing record for corporate support.
Stadium. In some ways, Drake Stadium is a superior facility to Hayward Field (admittedly, not many). The university is in the midst of fund-raising to expand the aging Drake Fieldhouse, which would radically change the warm-up spaces to be better than Hayward’s and will be indoors to boot (which eliminates weather as a hazard). Drake Stadium’s capacity of 14,500 is fairly small for an Olympic Trials, but there are ways to add seating to get it up to 20,000 or so.
Space. Whereas Eugene uses streets surrounding Hayward Field to create its Fan Fest, Des Moines is looking at using the adjacent Drake University campus for similar purposes.
Size. At roughly three times the size of Eugene, there is enough hotel space for everyone who would want to come.
Location. Des Moines is located on two major interstate highways, just five hours west of Chicago and four hours south of Minneapolis, and its airport connects to 19 major airline hubs.

Minuses
Attendance. Des Moines set an attendance record at the 2008 NCAA Championships, but since then it has dropped off dramatically. I don’t think this matters for an Olympic Trials; they’ve sold out or come close to it no matter where they’ve been held. But it doesn’t look good in the bidding process.
Weather. It can be hot and thunderstorms are a distinct possibility.

New York

Now we’re getting more into the realm of speculation, but we can dream, right?

Strengths
It’s New York. The greatest city in the world. The media capital of the USA. Need I say more?
Organization. The New York Road Runners annually pulls off possibly the greatest logistical challenge in all of sports, the New York City Marathon. The Armory Foundation, a much smaller group, organizes and entire metropolis’ worth of seemingly nonstop indoor track meets from December through March. Even the Oregon Track Club’s efforts seem small in comparison to these major undertakings. New York would be more than up to the task of organizing the Olympic Trials.
Location. Only Chicago is comparable to New York in terms of transportation options.
Size. There would be no problems with hotel space.

Weaknesses
Stadium. Icahn Stadium is nice and the athletics facilities are first-class but it’s far too small. The permanent seating holds only 5,000, expandable to 9,000 or so when backstretch seating is added. There is space to build out but not a lot. Anything short of 20,000 seats is probably too little for an Olympic Trials.
Interest. No one has expressed any interest in hosting the event.
Cost. Everything costs more in New York. It’s not cheap to go to Eugene for ten days, but it’s simply beyond the reach of many to go to New York for ten days.

Austin

Strengths
Stadium. Mike Myers Stadium seats 20,000 and is a full-time track facility. That means wide-radius turns and it can have all the throws on the infield.
Organization. Austin hosts the Texas Relays and UIL Championships, both of which are major undertakings. The people-based infrastructure of officials and volunteers are available here.
Location and size. No problems here. Austin’s airport isn’t quite as big as you might want, but it’s still fairly easy to get here.

Weaknesses
Weather. It’s hotter than hell in Texas in the summer.
Interest. Austin hasn’t hosted any championship meets in quite a while, and doesn’t seem interested in doing so.

Wichita

Yes, Wichita. I’m not the first to have thought of this.

Strengths
Stadium. Cessna Stadium, at 30,000, is the largest track-only stadium in the United States (and the third-largest with a track in it). Certainly it’s the only possible host of the Olympic Trials that has also hosted a Rolling Stones concert. The facility has wide-radius turns and can have all the throws on the infield.
Interest. I brought up the possibility of hosting an Olympic Trials with Wichita State head coach Steve Rainbolt earlier this year, and his interest was piqued. Under his leadership, WSU has hosted many collegiate meets plus last year’s USATF Junior Olympics. I simply don’t know Rainbolt well enough to say if he has the requisite skills to successfully organize an Olympic Trials, but I know he’s a tireless go-getter and that’s the major qualification needed.
Size and ease of access. At about 2/3 of a million residents, the Wichita area would have (barely) enough space for all the visitors that an Olympic Trials would bring. Its airport has service to ten airline hubs, again making it (barely) good enough to bring all those visitors in.

Weaknesses
Experience. Besides that Junior Olympic meet, they’ve hosted nothing bigger than the Kansas state meet.
Weather. Not like Texas (the seventh level of hell), but close to it.

Geneva

Where? Geneva, Ohio. More specifically, the Spire Institute. (Note: I’ve written about this place before.)

Strengths
Facilities. The Spire Institute’s facilities are off the charts. Spire is building a track-specific stadium that will have enough space to seat everyone who wants to be there. The warm-up track would be in its already-existing 10,000 seat football/track stadium. Weather is bad? Warm up on the 300-meter indoor track.
Desire. Spire is already slated to host the 2013 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships and Big Ten and Big East indoor championships. They also placed a bid on the 2013 USATF Indoor Championships (ultimately unsuccessful because of its oversize track). Once the outdoor track-specific stadium is ready to go, look for more bids to come.

Weaknesses
Money. There have been cashflow problems at Spire.
Size and location. Geneva is very small and about a 30-minute drive from the furthest-flung Cleveland suburbs. There is enough housing at Spire and in Geneva for athletes, officials, and media, but that’s it. Some mass transportation setup with Cleveland would be necessary. On the plus side, nearby Geneva-on-the-Lake is a summer resort area that could put up the most well-off visitors.

Berkeley

Strengths
Stadium. Edwards Stadium is the second-largest track/soccer stadium in the nation, seating 22,000. It hosted the NCAA Championships eight times, but none since 1968. There’s even a warmup facility just three blocks away at Berkeley High School.
Location. Who wouldn’t want to go to the San Francisco area? It’s a great city, it’s easy to get to, and the weather is great.

Weakness
Desire. Cal-Berkeley’s athletic department has expressed zero interest in hosting big meets. It’s been about four decades since they did. This also means there’s no existing organization ready to do the difficult work.

Los Angeles

Strengths
Stadium. UCLA’s Drake Stadium seats 11,700, and that’s all on the homestretch side. Temporary seating could be added to double that.
Location. In terms of opportunities for media exposure, Los Angeles is second only to New York. The weather can be hot but is otherwise highly dependable. Many athletes wouldn’t even need housing, as they already live in the LA area.

Weakness
Desire. UCLA hasn’t hosted anything of note since the old Pepsi Invitational went under two decades ago. As with Berkeley, there is no organization in place ready to do the heavy lifting.

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23 Responses to If Not Eugene, Then Where?

  1. James says:

    In addition to Geneva in Ohio, Columbus itself could easily host the trials. the Jesse Owens track seats 10,000 in grandstands with room for quite a few more seats. Columbus has a ton of experience hosting major sporting events (i.e, every OSU football game brings hundreds of thousands of people to campus). As an Ohioan, you know that while our weather can be warm in the summer, thunderstorms are far more rare then out on the great plains. Considering the OHSAA meets are some of the biggest track meets in the world by attendance, and last I heard our XC championship is THE largest in the world, Ohio is second in track culture only to Oregon. We have more than enough hotel space to host the media and attendees, and an international airport that’s easy to get too from any major airport. Hosting the trials in Columbus could be a great way to honor Jesse Owens, just as Pre is honored in Eugene.

  2. Sam says:

    What is the status of the track in Sacramento?

  3. Cara says:

    As much as I love Austin, I agree with you about the weather. It is horrible here in the summer. This past week we had a 109 degree day, I could not imagine holding the trials here unless we did them in December.

    • Prometheus says:

      You are right about Texas heat. The humidity is ghastly, something like 90%. In 1986 I was waiting for a flight in the Houston airport, and went out briefly. Inside of thirty seconds perspiration from my scalp covered my face and felt like I had fallen into a lake. I beat a hasty retreat to the airport terminal. Despite the almost frigid air-conditioning, it took me forty-five minutes for the perspiration to go back to normal. Weather experts note that 40% humidity is normal during summer months, which is not the case in the mid-west, gulf coast, and the mid-atlantic states. The latter have terrrible humidity with high summer temperatures, and that would be dangerous to get out and compete in an Olympic Trials.

  4. runbei says:

    Agree on all points, but I think you’ve overlooked some worthy sites for the Trials.

    If all that’s needed is a track with a large stadium and plenty of accommodations, then we can look at all the cities with big universities, preferably in colorful locations with semi-decent weather – and a large and active population of runners, jumpers, and throwers.

  5. tracksuperfan says:

    Re: Sacramento…

    That’s out for multiple reasons. The football field at Hornet Stadium is turf now which more or less rules out the Trials. Also, the city is out $1 million since the Sacramento Sports Commission couldn’t pay back the loan it got for hosting the World Masters championships. Sacto is not hosting a big championship meet for at least a generation.

  6. tracksuperfan says:

    Re: Columbus…

    Media accommodations are far too small and 10,000 seats is also far too small. There’s not a ton of space to add seats and warmup facilities would have to be jerry-rigged into the Woody Hayes Center, which is far less than ideal. Also, after the ’08 US Junior Championships, where the fans in attendance could have fit in a single VW Bug, the OSU athletic department is not too keen on hosting events. I think they can and should attempt to host an NCAA meet, though.

  7. shari brown says:

    As a K-State fans it repulses me to suggest this, but what about home of the KU Relays, Lawrence KS? Larrytown is definitely used to the crowds and with its proximity to KCI and KC hotels, it seems like it could work. I like what they did this year as well with the remote sites downtown for the long jump and shot put.

  8. Mike says:

    Just a quick comment regarding Los Angeles weather. You already put it as a strength but still said hot. UCLA is close enough to the ocean that I don’t think heat would be a problem. The 10 day forecast is pretty typical for this time of year, and the highs are in the 70s and lows in the 60s for the next 10 days. http://www.weather.com/weather/tenday/Los+Angeles+CA+90095:4:US

    If only Los Angeles was interested in hosting it. Oh yeah, also if they got rid of the smog and traffic problems.

  9. Jon says:

    Bring it to the east coast!!!!

  10. Chris says:

    As much as I would like it to be in Texas because of how close it would be to me, it is definitely too hot in June in Texas. Although I don’t think that Cessna Stadium is the largest track only facility in the U.S., Fouts Field in Denton holds 30,500 and is only used by the UNT Track and Field Team since the football team moved into the new Apogee Stadium.

  11. No to Lawrence says:

    The track in Lawrence is terrible, and a majority of the events have to be contested outside of the infield…sooo that’d be a no

  12. tracksuperfan says:

    Besides the fact that Memorial Stadium’s track is 440 yards (not 400 meters) and thus could never host a championship meet, the scuttlebutt is that the track won’t be in the stadium for all that much longer.

  13. Chris Kuykendall says:

    Re: Austin, where I live. Besides the heat (100+ during the Eugene Trials) and the low fan interest, UT ought to be disqualified for additional reasons until (1) it proves it can place and operate field event signage where fans can see it and keep tabs, (2) it gets serious announcing, and (3) it adds more water fountains. The NCAA west regional flunked (1) and (2), and the Texas Relays habitually do. Even if the USOC or USATF take over (1) and (2) from the locals, there’s still (3), the heat, and the fan disinterest, comparatively. I love Eugene, and like Des Moines. Denton, I don’t know anything about. It probably beats Austin in terms of potential, but it’s hot there, too.

  14. STAN says:

    Change the date of the Trials.
    Hold this thing in May and the weather problems in many areas go away.

  15. Bruce Colman says:

    as an official who works at LOT at UC Berkeley (just retired as officials coordinator) I’ll point out that the local organizing committee would be essenitally the same people who put on the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials in Sacramento, as well as NCAA and USATF championships in that same period at Stanford–that is, Pacific Association USATF leadership and PA officials (who have a very high opinion of ourselves). And/or/but…parking in Berkeley is really really terrible, and I think hotel-to-stadium access etc. would be far from ideal. But Edwards is a beautiful, beautiful facility for a meet and it’s a shame we never see it filled.

  16. keith smothers says:

    What about the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, home of the Penn Relays. It’s not unusual to have 40-50,000 people in attendance, and we certainly have the acumen to pull off a large meet.

  17. Jeff Sherman says:

    I am biased because I live near Eugene, and have not been to other big meets around the country, but I think that the magic of Historical Hayward Field is real, and if you were to ask the athletes and the fans where they would like to go for this meet, Eugene is the answer. There are plenty of housing options, especially if you want to experience a bit of Oregon by getting out of Eugene and staying in a B&B, or resorts that on the McKenzie River offered discounts for Trials fans. Come on back to Eugene every 4 years and every year for the Pre Meet. We “webfoots” want to share the magic with you.

  18. Jim says:

    Then let’s not forget Indianapolis!

  19. Once a Duck says:

    It’s gotta be Eugene. Sadly this is a, if not dying sport, a dwindling one. Eugene and Nike love it. I mean they LOVE it the roots are so deep.

    Hopefully the coming changes to be announced next week with Vin Lananna, will be the projects to re-model Hayward Field, Build an Indoor Track Facility and a TF HOF. PK is not getting any younger, and it may be time to accelerate his final legacy at Oregon.

    This sport is on life support. And the best thing for it is a permanent home that loves it and will carry the flame — and a place that will listen to comments about “last time” and try their best to make it better for “next time.”

    We need to be realistic about the sport we love, and how little money it has, how little support, and how little the American public cares.

    If PK and Vin want to make a lasting shrine to this sport, with a permanent home for the OT’s. Then we’re better to embrace it…you know, you have 4 years to make your travel plans between trials…

  20. KB says:

    I literally grew up running at Hayward. The experiences with all the top notch athletes that came to visit my “home” left a permanent love for track and Eugene in my heart. I’m sure there are other places that would be more convenient to hold the USOT, but to let an athlete tap into the history and culture of their sport helps to inspire performance and perpetuate the very best ideals of the sport. I’m completely biased, but Eugene is the only place in the U.S. that can do that. Consider it a pilgrimage if you want, because Eugene is like the Holy Land for track and field. I know this is a little corny, but I think this is the general attitude of most Oregonians.

  21. Chris Kuykendall says:

    More strikes against Austin: The journalism. The local paper here sent a sportwriter to Omaha who’s been covering the swimming trials substantially, but the track & field trials stuff is mostly condensed Associated Press. Amy Acuff, a current resident, just made her 5th Olympic team. What’s on the front page of the sports pages today instead is the report on the under-19 win of the United States over American Samoa, 27-6, in (American) football. Plus the Sandusky matter. Plus the swimming. Plus West Virginia and TCU joining the Big Twelve. Not even a peep on Acuff on page 3, although there is buildup for local-area Leonel Manzano in Sunday’s 1500.

  22. Gator says:

    Wichita does not have “wide-radius” turns. It has 100m straights and 100m turns–which is what is known as an “equal quadrant” track in the industry. Cessna Stadium’s current track is not acceptable for the Worlds. IAAF standard tracks, used for all Olympics and Worlds since at least 1976, have 84.39m straighs and 115. 61m turns.