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.
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.
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.
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.
The host of the Drake Relays, Iowa state championships, and several recent NCAA and USATF championships is going after the big one.
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.
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.
Now we’re getting more into the realm of speculation, but we can dream, right?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, Wichita. I’m not the first to have thought of this.
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.
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.
Where? Geneva, Ohio. More specifically, the Spire Institute. (Note: I’ve written about this place before.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.