Every four years, people focus their attention on the track and field events at the summer Olympics to see who will be the fastest runners, the highest and longest jumpers and the best throwers in the world. While the sport receives this jolt of attention during the summer Olympic cycle, it is thriving year-round, thanks to outstanding facilities in cities across the U.S.
Terry & Linda Fuller Track at Texas Tech offers a unique experience ‘from the blocks to the finish line.’ It has a Super Mondo X surface and can seat 5,000 fans. With sprint lanes and pits for the pole vault, long jump, and triple jump, Tech has hosted the Big XII Outdoor Track & Field Championships. When track meets are held in Lubbock, the locals come out in droves to support the competitors. In recent years, Lubbock Sports has hosted a number of indoor and outdoor track & field championships for the National Junior College Athletic Association, Big XII Conference, and USA Track & Field.
There are two other main track facilities in Lubbock: Lowery Field, which seats 8,000; and Frenship Tiger Stadium which seats 10,000. Both are eight-lane tracks.
“Lubbock offers facilities for almost every sporting event,” said Scott Harrison, the sports director for Lubbock Sports. “Aside from finding the right facility for the event, the Lubbock Sports team is happy to help in many different ways, from booking hotel rooms and hospitality services to coaches' and players' gifts.”
Des Moines, Iowa
Think about track and field in Des Moines, Iowa, and one thing should come to mind: the Drake Relays each April. Drake Stadium underwent a $15 million improvement in 2005 with the goal of distinguishing itself as one of the premier track and field facilities in the country. The seating capacity is nearly 15,000. With that investment, a new Olympic-level, Mondo track was installed and the lanes were widened to 48 inches. Permanent lights and a video scoreboard were added and a state-of-the-art artificial turf infield was installed. Seating, restrooms, and the press box were also improved.
The impressive list of events held at Drake Stadium includes the NCAA Championships, AAU Junior Olympic Games, USA Outdoor Championships, and USA Track & Field Championships. Drake Stadium is also the annual home of the Iowa High School Boys and Girls State Track & Field Championships each May, which attracts nearly 50,000 fans.
“Des Moines is certainly living up to its claim of being Track Central USA,” said Vicki Comegys of the Greater Des Moines CVB.
Drake Stadium has been the site of 14 world records, 49 American records, and 56 national collegiate records. Hundreds of Olympic gold medalists have competed at Drake Stadium over the years. The list of legends includes Jesse Owens, Al Oerter, Bob Hayes, Wilma Rudolph, Frank Shorter, Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis, Gwen Torrence and five-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson.
“There’s nothing that can compare to the environment and crowds at Drake Stadium,” said Johnson. “It is like being at a track meet in Europe.”
Dekalb County, Georgia
The main reason why track and field is so popular in Dekalb County, Georgia, is because it has a solid, grassroots foundation. The most successful athletic programs in the DeKalb County School System come from track and field. The county boasts 65 state championships in track and field, 536 individual championships, 118 relay titles and 106 multi-title winners between the boys and girls. Druid Hills High School has eight boys' state titles and Southwest DeKalb High School is right behind with seven state championships. Southwest DeKalb also has five girls' state titles.
Five of the more popular track and field venues are Panthersville Stadium in Decatur (capacity of 8,500); Adams Stadium in Atlanta (capacity of 6,500); James R. Hallford Stadium in Clarkston (capacity of 15,600); North Dekalb Stadium in Chamblee (capacity of 6.500); and Avondale Stadium in Avondale Estates; (capacity of 6,500).
Many cities see track and field as a great sport. But in Eugene, Oregon, it has been elevated to something akin to a religion. Of the excellent facilities in the area, Hayward Field might be the first that comes to mind, but there are others as well, notably Lane Community College Track & Field facility in Eugene, and the McKenzie Community Track & Field facility in Blue River.
The Historic Hayward Field complex was built in 1919 and underwent an $8 million renovation just prior to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. It is now a world-class track and field-specific venue with 10,500 seats under the covered grandstands. The 400-meter track has eight lanes –each 48” wide. What makes the viewing experience so special at Hayward Field is the fact that all the field events, except the hammer throw, are conducted on the infield of the stadium. The hammer throw is actually held on a field adjacent to the south side of the stadium. Over the years, Hayward Field has hosted ten NCAA Track & Field Championships, six Pac-12 Conference Championships, six USA Track & Field Championships, five U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials and the annual Prefontaine Classic , named in honor of the late, great U.S. middle distance runner, Steve Prefontaine.
As would be expected, a number of collegiate, American and world records have been set at Hayward Field over the years. The most notable record is probably the current American and world record for points scored in a decathlon – 9,039. This new mark was set last June by Ashton Eaton, during the U.S. Olympic Trials. Three former world records have been set by men at Hayward – in the 200 meters, 300 meters and 800 meters. Three former women’s world records have also been established at Hayward – in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, and the marathon.
“When an athlete steps into the shot put ring, starts down the long jump runway or runs the backstretch, the rhythmic clapping of the spectators echoes through the grandstands. And in those special moments, when an athlete clears a tremendous height or hurls the javelin across the infield or begins their finishing kick coming off the Bowerman Curve , the roar of the crowd is deafening,” said Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA (Eugene, Oregon). “You may be able to conduct a track meet in another stadium, but nowhere other than Hayward Field can you create an athletic spectacle.”
Odessa, Texas, has a strong track and field tradition with a first-class facility, Ratliff Stadium, a modern, eight-lane track with lights and permanent seating on both sides. The press box, which rises above the stadium on one side, is another plus. This stadium, first built in 1982 with seats for nearly 18,000 spectators, is also known as the 'epicenter of Texas high school football.'
"Ratliff Stadium is a terrific venue for both the track and field athletes and the spectators," said Jeff Meyers, sports sales specialist with the Odessa CVB. “Although being more well-known for its football and 'Friday Night Lights,' the stadium has played host to several track and field events over the years. Ratliff Stadium is an icon in Texas sports venues and the shining star of West Texas.”
Ratliff Stadium will be the home of this year’s AAU National Qualifier meet. There is also a Boston Marathon qualifier in Odessa, known as the Crossroads Marathon, which finishes inside Ratliff Stadium. Additionally, Ratliff Stadium is the home of the West Texas Relays, one of the oldest track events in the state.
From an aerial perspective, the parking lot, which surrounds the stadium on all four sides, dwarfs the stadium, and as a result, parking is never an issue. There is permanent seating on the two straightaways, and each end zone area is ringed by trees, which enhances the look and feel of the track and field experience.
“The Bentonville Tiger Track Complex is a state-of-the-art facility with a press box and seating for 1200,” said Blair Cromwell, vice president of communications for the Bentonville CVB. “It is a newer college-like facility and sits on the west side of the Bentonville High School campus.”
This track facility in Bentonville was built in 2004. It’s an eight-lane track with a polyurethane surface. This facility also hosts soccer games.
On a local level, the Bentonville High School track and field teams have found success in recent years with the 7A Classification state championships for the girls teams in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
There are three main locations for hosting track and field and/or cross country meets in Peoria, Illinois: EastSide Centre, which has one all-weather outdoor track and seats 500 fans; Detweiller Park, with its three-mile-long cross country course with lawn seating; and Peoria Stadium.
As far as annual major track and field events in the area, there’s the IESA Track Meets which attracted 6,100 athletes last year and 25,000 spectators over the two separate weekends last May.
The other major event which Peoria hosts in May is the Peoria Journal-Star Honor Roll Track Meet that attracts the top performers from the newspaper’s circulation area. There's also the IHSA State Cross Country Championships every fall at Detweiller Park. This cross country meet, held each year in the fall, is one of the largest sporting events in the Peoria area, with 20,000 fans in attendance.
Every year, Peoria hosts several races with the Illinois Valley Strider’s/ Running Central. The greater Peoria area is also home to the Steamboat Classic which attracts runners from several countries.
Peoria can also claim a world-class athlete who got his start on its tracks: former U.S. Olympic middle distance runner Tim Broe. He was born in Peoria and graduated from East Peoria Community High School in the spring of 1995.
The crown jewel of the track and field infrastructure in Birmingham, Alabama, is the CrossPlex. The facility, which was completed in 2011 and encompasses 750,000 square feet, features a hydraulic indoor track which can be raised to create banked corners. It is the only indoor facility of its type in Alabama, and seats 4,000 spectators.
The hydraulic lift creates a banked curve for races beginning at 800 meters. Facility personnel can also lower both ends to create the long, flat straightaway necessary for the sprints and hurdles. According to the Birmingham, Alabama, website, it takes facility workers only 10 minutes to raise or lower the track as needed.
Since opening its doors less than two years ago, the CrossPlex has hosted the indoor track and field championships for Conference USA, the Southern Conference, and the Southwestern Athletic Conference. In March of this year, the NCAA Division II Championships for indoor track & field, swimming, and wrestling were held in the CrossPlex. In addition, the indoor track & field championships for Alabama high schools are now held at the CrossPlex.
According to David Galbaugh of the Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, the CrossPlex is one of the top two or three indoor track facilities of its kind in the country. Galbaugh also mentioned that this special indoor facility is also being used for volleyball.