Earlier I told you how I got an unexpected offer to go to the Trials for a couple of days with my one of my very best friends, a guy who truly would appreciate both the meet and its atmosphere in Hayward Field and Eugene. I also told you about my unexpected evening with a high school teammate that I’d barely seen in 23 years because JJ and I got our wires crossed on when he was picking me up in Portland.
Here’s the rest of the story, and why you should definitely go out to a big meet in Eugene sometime. The Trials are the biggest thing they’ll host, but an NCAA Championships (they host in 2013 and 2014) or the 2014 World Junior Championships would be great, too. Go. Just go.
Hayward Field is a place like nowhere else. The best comparison I can make in the American sports landscape is Fenway Park, but in truth it’s more like an old-timey English football (soccer) stadium. Both Hayward and Fenway are old wooden warhorses with limitations but beloved by the fans that regularly fill them. (Sportswriters use the euphemism of “character”.) You half expect some track version of Roy Hobbs to throw a discus called “Wonderboy” into the lights, all taking place in slow motion.
Yes, I genuflected, and yes, it was more or less serious. If track and field is your religion, then this is a cathedral.
Eugene is small and remote. It’s an isolated ecosystem, like the Galapagos Islands, and thus things flourish here that cannot gain a foothold elsewhere. Track and field is chief among them.
Right across the street from our hotel, and just a few blocks from Hayward, is a bar called The Wild Duck. (When last I was in Eugene, a watering hole called the Villard Street Pub occupied the space.) It was THE gathering spot after the day’s activity. Sprinter Ryan Bailey and his (small) entourage came there after he won a spot on the Olympic team, and I finally got to meet Track and Field News editor Garry Hill and Penn Relays director Dave Johnson. This is the kind of interior decor the place sports:
Each night about half the big screens were showing some old track footage I’d never seen before. As much as I love track and field, I love track and field history even more. So if I haven’t seen it, it’s rare. The first night they showed what appeared to be raw footage from ABC’s coverage of the 1968 Olympics, including a Howard Cosell interview with Tommie Smith. The second night they showed what I immediately recognized as Visions of Eight, the official film of the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The thing about the Olympic Trials, wherever it’s held, is that it’s a quadrennial gathering of everyone and everything in track and field in the United States. If you know someone from the internet, you’re going to meet them here. This is Oregon track and field fan #1, Lynn Cox.
Athletes were regularly signing autographs and the lines were very long. Here, magic markers disappear in the hands of Olympic shot putters Reese Hoffa, Ryan Whiting and Christian Cantwell as if they were golf pencils.
Track and field as a major sport has a long history in Eugene. The peak eras were the Bowerman days of the the 60s and 70s, and right now. Pre’s Trail is nice but oversold; other than being deeply woodchipped, it’s no different than any of the dozens of park trails right near my home. More moving than I thought it would be is Pre’s Rock, the memorial to the hero struck down at a young age.
I went this time because someone convinced JJ that if he was in the Pacific northwest and didn’t go to the Trials in Eugene, he’d regret it for the rest of his life, and he needed someone to take the extra ticket. If you ever get a chance, don’t you miss it either.