On the Fast Track
23 May, 2016By: Michael Popke
From Coast to Coast, Communities Pick up the Pace and Raise the Bar for Hosting Track and Field Competitions
Track and field is one of the oldest sports known to mankind and generally speaking, its pace continues to be strong, with the sport ranking tops in participation among high school girls and second among boys (behind football), according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. This essentially guarantees the continued popularity of quality track and field events, as well as the undeniable need for qualified venues to host them.
Here are six key track and field destinations, spanning from coast to coast, and what it is about them that bring in the events. These communities can rightfully boast about their own track and field facilities — and back those claims up with a list of high-profile events that vault, hurdle, jump and sprint their way into these cities, creating positive economic impact.
Track Town USA: Eugene, Oregon
Something always seems to be going on at Hayward Field, the fabled facility on the University of Oregon campus that will turn 100 years old in 2019. The next five years will be particularly eventful, beginning in July with the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials.
A Hayward tradition in the 1970s and again every four years since 2008, the trials take place on eight lanes surrounded by permanent seating for 10,500 (and temporary seating for thousands more.) The action is illuminated by eight 110-foot light poles and additional lights atop the west and east grandstands, and a giant video board captures it all.
“Any Olympic year is always a bigger year for us,” says Janis Ross, executive director of Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports. “There is nothing like competing at Hayward Field. It’s absolutely magical. The crowd has an understanding of the sport, and participants can feel that support and passion. That’s why we’ve seen so many records broken at Hayward.”
After the Olympic trials, the historic facility will undergo a year-long renovation in advance of the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships and the 2021 IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
The renovation will increase permanent seating to approximately 12,500, with the ability to add temporary seating that will expand capacity to about 30,000. Hayward Field will be closed from August 2016 through May 2017. When it reopens, Ross expects the stadium to become even more coveted as a track and field destination.
Prior to this year’s U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials, the annual Prefontaine Classic — another premier meet at Hayward — will be held May 27-28 as part of the IAAF Diamond League with a world-class lineup of athletes. This year’s event has strong connections to the first Prefontaine Classic, originally known as the Hayward Field Restoration Meet, launched in 1973 to help replace the facility’s deteriorated west grandstand. As part of the major Hayward renovation beginning late this summer, that west grandstand will be torn down.
There’s plenty of celebrating still left to do before the renovation begins, though. As has become tradition, runners who place first, second and third in their events at Hayward Field this summer will take a victory lap to rousing applause from appreciative fans — something that doesn’t happen anyplace else, Ross says.
As she explains, “It’s a Hayward thing.”
Recent Renovations in Visalia, California
About 700 miles straight south of Eugene and centrally located in California, Visalia offers track and field event organizers the Giant Chevrolet-Cadillac Mineral King Bowl — a popular spot for football, soccer, field hockey, and track and field.
With seating for approximately 4,600, upgraded lighting and a new block of restrooms, the facility boasts a nine-lane track that recently hosted a College of the Sequoias track and field meet for the first time in six years, according to Suzanne Bianco, tourism and marketing director for the Visalia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
That event, the Sequoias Relays, is a popular meet featuring several California colleges along with community activities that include a kids’ run and “Return of the Giants,” which honors former College of the Sequoias track and field athletes.
Several other local and regional events are held at the Mineral King Bowl, too.
Bianco points out that the facility is located only a few blocks away from Recreation Park, home of the Visalia Rawhide (a Class A-Advanced affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks) along with more than 50 restaurants, boutiques and brew pubs.
Additionally, the Giant Sequoia Trees have been attracting visitors to the two national parks in Visalia, which is nestled into the base of the Sierra Nevadas. Hiking, camping, bicycling and other activities are available to visitors who want the off-the-beaten-path experience.
Convenience for Midwestern Participants in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Nestled in the southeast corner of South Dakota, Sioux Falls is a short drive from numerous locales in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska — making it a logical destination for Midwest-based track and field events.
“When we say we’re a regional draw, we truly are,” says Krista Orsack, director of marketing for the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our town loves sports. We’re a small enough city that people here pay attention to events that Sioux Falls hosts.”
Why is this city of 165,000 a track and field draw? Because it’s home to two popular yet wholly different facilities.
The University of Sioux Falls’ Lillibridge Track and Field Complex was completed in 2010 and includes a nine-lane track and seating for about 300 spectators. The benefit of nine lanes vs. the standard eight lanes, according to USA Track and Field meet officials, is significant when hosting larger meets and allows for more potential competitors.
A highlight of Lillibridge’s schedule will be the 2018 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Meanwhile, Howard Wood Field is a 58-year-old football stadium that also hosts track meets. With a synthetic turf field for non-running events and spectator seating for more than 10,000, the facility will host the Dakota Relays in May. That event’s history dates back more than 90 years and is considered one of South Dakota’s premier athletic showcases. More than 3,000 athletes from middle school, high school and college are expected to compete.
Since 2012, a series of improvements — a new track, press box, and seating and landscaping — has given new life to the facility. A field house is scheduled for completion in 2017 and will further enhance the venue with upgraded locker rooms, more training areas and additional rest rooms. All told, more than $11 million will be spent on upgrades, Orsack says.
Additionally, Augustana University is expected to break ground on a 200-meter indoor track facility this summer.
A Hydraulically-Banked Track in Birmingham, Alabama
The multi-purpose Birmingham CrossPlex — featuring one of the few hydraulically banked tracks in the world — turns five years old in 2016. During that short span, the facility has hosted well over 100 events, including the 2016 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and the 2015 Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships. The Division II Championships are on tap again for 2017, with the Division III Championships coming in 2018.
The CrossPlex also has welcomed college conference championships and invitationals, regional and national club-level championships, high school state championships and youth meets. And the facility will be involved in activities when Birmingham hosts the National Senior Games in 2017 and the World Games in 2021, too.
“People just love going there,” says David Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing for the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That place is going gangbusters.”
No surprise, considering the 200-meter indoor facility offers competitors a Mondo track surface — the same used for the last 10 Olympic Games — and the banked corners make it one of the fastest indoor tracks in the world. The banks can be raised or lowered in 10 minutes; the higher the banks, the faster the track. Elevated seating includes VIP suites, and the facility can hold up to 4,000 spectators.
“We really needed the Birmingham CrossPlex, because we didn’t have an indoor track,” Galbaugh says. “High school athletes were actually running in a barn somewhere north of Birmingham before it was built.”
As a result of the CrossPlex, several area high schools now offer indoor track and field programs, which have boosted the sport’s profile.
An Indoor Facility Attracting National Competitions in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Since it opened in 2012, the privately-operated JDL Fast Track has hosted countless events, including — all in one month last year — the North Carolina High School Athletic Association State Championships, the USATF Southeast Region Masters Indoor Championships and the indoor championships for at least three college conferences.
“JDL Fast Track has emerged as one of the fastest and highest regarded facilities within the Southeast,” says Bonny Bernat, sports sales manager at Visit Winston-Salem. “Since JDL Fast Track opened in 2012, we have hosted national- and international-caliber competitors, including [middle-distance runner] Shannon Rowbury, [decathlete] Ashton Eaton and [hurdler] David Oliver.”
Already established as one of the Southeast’s premier indoor track and field facilities, JDL Fast Track features an eight-lane Mondo track, two pole-vault runways, two long/triple-jump runways, one high-jump area and one throw area, with seating for 1,700 (nearly double what it was when the venue opened.)
In March, the facility hosted the 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association Indoor Track & Field Championships, and in previous years it welcomed the USATF Masters Indoor National Championship, as well as NCAA Division II and Division III Championships.
In January, the JDL Fast Track hosted the fourth Camel City Invitational, a collegiate and open competition highlighted by a two-hour showcase featuring some of the world’s finest track and field athletes.
Bernat says the JDL Fast Track now is looking for more events to host during the offseason.
Hosting a Range of Track and Field Events in Greensboro, North Carolina
About 30 miles to the east of Winston-Salem, the expansive Greensboro Coliseum Complex, which also includes a Special Events Center and the Greensboro Aquatic Center, has transformed Greensboro into a destination for championship-level competitions in everything from volleyball and swimming to figure skating and wrestling.
And now, with the inaugural USA Masters Games coming to the city in July and the AAU Junior Olympic Games on the calendar for 2019, Greensboro is quickly gaining a reputation for track and field.
(The USA Masters Games are a multi-sport event expected to draw thousands of athletes 25 years of age and older for 10 days of competition; it will be the first of what officials say are planned as biennial events with different host cities.)
The outdoor Aggie Stadium and Irwin Belk Track at North Carolina A&T State University — which opened in 2004, boasts a new high-definition video board and holds 23,000 fans — will be used for the both USA Masters Games and AAU Junior Olympics (which is considered the largest youth track and field meet in the country).
That facility also frequently hosts high-profile USATF, NCAA Division I, high school and other college meets. A track resurfacing project and practice track installation is in the works, adds Brian Ambuehl, sports sales manager for the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Greensboro is expected to now be in the rotation for the AAU Junior Olympics, which are expected to bring in 12,000 athletes in approximately 20 sports. “It’s massive and heavily sought after,” Ambuehl says, stressing that Greensboro submitted its initial bid for the event back in 2012. “Not every community can handle it. For track and field events, Eugene, Oregon, may be the ultimate national destination, but on the East Coast, it’s Greensboro.”