A city known for consistently hosting the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials and NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships took another giant leap last July when the World Athletics Championships came to Eugene, Oregon and Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. More than 1,700 athletes from 179 countries converged on TrackTown USA for the first time in the event’s 40-year history.
According to local officials, the World Athletic Championships generated more than 110,000 room nights and a local economic impact of $50.5 million. Residents from all 50 states and nearly 40 countries bought tickets, and the city embraced them.
Travel Lane County and the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission developed a local “Heart & Home of Track & Field” branding campaign that included posters, table tents, buttons, stickers and apparel available for local businesses to help visitors feel welcome. And that branding will continue, according to J.B. Carney, senior director of the sports commission.
“As I biked around town during the ten days of the event, it felt like our city was transformed,” he says. “The running trails were full of groups running, the Riverfront Festival was packed with people from all over the world, and the vibrancy and electricity were palpable. For over 100 years, track has been a part of this small town’s story.”
The first track meet at Hayward Field took place in 1921, and the venue hosted its first Olympic tryouts in 1944 and its first NCAA Championships in 1962. Prior to the World Athletics Championships, it underwent a reported $270 million renovation that included a new nine-lane, 400-meter track and new seating for 12,650 (which can be expanded to 25,000).
Last year was coined “the greatest track and field year in Oregon history,” according to Carney, as Hayward Field hosted more than a dozen elite events. In 2023, the venue picked up right where it left off. It will host the Wanda Diamond League Final for the first time on U.S. soil at the Prefontaine Classic in September. The Diamond League, which began in 2010, is World Athletics’ annual series of elite one-day track and field invitationals around the globe.
Additionally, the 2023 National Scholastic Athletics Foundation Nike Outdoor Nationals high school championships will return to Hayward Field in June, followed by the 2023 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships and the 2023 USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships, both in July.
Though TrackTown USA is a much sought-after destination, other cities also offer their own track and field appeal. Here’s a rundown on seven more.
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines, host of the long-running Drake Relays and frequent host of the USATF Outdoor Championships, will welcome the 2023 Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games in late July and early August. Drake Stadium’s nine-lane, 400-meter blue track at Drake University will host all track and field events, and the team at Catch Des Moines is hard at work building itineraries with places to eat, play and sightsee.
“This is the fifth time we’ve hosted the Junior Olympic Games, and we’ll also host in 2026 and 2030,” says Laura Jass, the organization’s national sports sales and events manager. “[AAU officials] like the affordability, walkability and the fact that the red carpet is rolled out for their athletes and fans. Our community embraces events big and small, and when people come to compete in Des Moines, they’ll find ‘Iowa Nice’ welcomes.”
In addition to the AAU Junior Olympics, Drake Stadium will host the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union state track and field meets this year, as well as the 2023 National Veterans Golden Age Games. But the Drake Relays remains the local springtime staple, a unique mix of high school, college and professional runners that Jass says “puts us on the map each year in the track and field community and allows us to open the door for other events.”
Later this year, the privately owned Johnston Ignit Sports Complex is expected to open about 10 miles north of Des Moines and boast “Iowa’s largest indoor track and soccer field,” plus indoor courts and outdoor fields, according to the facility’s website.
This state has several high-profile track and field venues, including Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium (outdoor) and Unitas Fieldhouse (indoor), but Baltimore will take the spotlight when it hosts the 2028 and 2032 AAU Junior Olympic Games. All track and field events will take place at Morgan State University’s Hughes Memorial Stadium, where the 400-meter track received a new high-performance blue-and-orange surface in 2019.
“Our goal, like with any major event we host, is to welcome folks into our home. We live here and we want visitors to share the same experiences that we share,” says Graham Whaples, project administrator for the Maryland Sports Commission, which worked closely with Visit Baltimore and the City of Baltimore to secure the bid for the Games. “So, a lot of our preparations entail working with community groups and leaders, and the business community, to make them aware that such a large event is coming, and to get buy-in and support so that every guest feels welcome.”
One of the state’s most popular venues for indoor and outdoor track and field events is the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, Whaples adds. The 75,000-square-foot Fieldhouse boasts a six-lane, 200-meter indoor track with state-of-the-art equipment and scoreboard, plus seating for up to 3,500 spectators. Meanwhile, the Marvin F. Wilson Stadium complex outside the Prince George’s facility houses an eight-lane, 400-meter track with seating for 5,500.
The Bob Devaney Center Indoor Track at the University of Nebraska is one of only nine hydraulic banked tracks in the United States, and the 200-meter track has a 67-foot radius, the largest of any indoor banked track in the world, according to university officials.
“It has had a tremendous impact on sports tourism in Lincoln,” says Derek Bombeck, director of sports at Visit Lincoln. “Not only does the track host many NCAA Division I competitions each year, but it has also played host to many post-season events such as the Big 12 and Big 10 men’s and women’s indoor championships and NCAA Division III championships.”
The University of Nebraska also is building a new $16.5 million outdoor track facility north of the Devaney Center, according to Bombeck, which will replace the Ed Weir Running Track and feature amenities that will allow Nebraska to host outdoor championships.
Nebraska Wesleyan University and Beechner Athletic Complex also host track and field events in Lincoln.
This Texas panhandle city is home to another of the country’s few hydraulic banked tracks. The Sports Performance Center at Texas Tech University recently added the amenity to its 200-meter track, which is now able to host Big 12 indoor championships and more. The facility seats 750 fans and can be expanded to hold 2,000 for larger meets, and it includes sprint lanes, a large video board and areas for high jump, pole vault, long jump and indoor throwing.
“The quality of our facilities sets Lubbock apart as the destination of choice for track and field events,” says Scott Harrison, sports director for Visit Lubbock. “The Sports Performance Center is a great example of the impeccable quality of venue you’ll find in Lubbock. And Texas Tech University offers a competitive atmosphere like no other.”
Lubbock also is home to several other track and field venues. They include Texas Tech’s outdoor facility, the Linda and Terry Fuller Track & Field Complex, with eight lanes and seating for 5,000 spectators; Lubbock Christian University’s Soccer & Track Facility, with an eight-lane track and 500 seats and multiple independent school district facilities. One of those venues, the Lubbock ISD’s Lowery Field at PlainsCapital Park, will be upgrading its track this year, according to Harrison.
Among the high-profile events coming to the city this year are the Lone Star Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships at LCU, the University Interscholastic League 4A and 5A Region I Track & Field Championships at Lowery Field and the Special Olympics Texas Area 17 Track and Field Competition at Frenship ISD’s Peoples Bank Stadium in nearby Wolfforth.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The privately operated JDL Fast Track, an indoor facility anchored by a 200-meter oval, has hosted all kinds of elite events, including the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track & Field Championships, the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Indoor Track & Field Championships and the USATF Southeast Region Masters Indoor Championships. The venue also includes two pole vault runways, two long/triple jump runways, a high jump area and throwing circles.
According to Paul Sheehan, sports development manager for Visit Winston-Salem, the JDL Fast Track upgraded its sports timing cameras last year and will upgrade its pole vault standards this year. “The owner and general manager use feedback from athletes, coaches and NCAA staff to enhance the participant experience,” he says.
Additionally, the aptly named JDL Fast Track hosts the annual Camel City Elite Races, which features both professional and college distance runners competing for some of the sport’s highest cash payouts in the country. In February, more than $80,000 in prize money and bonuses was awarded.
Other events on the venue’s schedule this year include the 2023 Piedmont Plus Senior Games, the 2023 Special Olympic Forsyth County Spring Games and the 2023 North Carolina High School Athletic Association Indoor State Championships. JDL Fast Track also is the long-term host of four collegiate athletic conference championships: the Appalachian Athletic Conference, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Conference Carolinas and the South Atlantic Conference.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex includes a track surrounding the football field and is the region’s primary track and field destination.
The municipally operated 4,000-seat venue hosts the Alabama High School Athletic Association State Track Championship, the Alabama Independent School Association’s Outdoor Track & Field State Championship, and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field National Championships.
“The upgrades over the years have allowed us to bid on and expand collegiate and high school track events” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sports, sales and events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. “We host a variety of local and regional meets, too.”
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Last but certainly not least on this tour of track and field venues is The Queen City, which boasts two large facilities, both of which are significant to the Sioux Falls sports scene, according to Brandon Vant Hul, sales manager for Experience Sioux Falls.
Howard Wood Field is the home football and soccer stadium for all four Sioux Falls public high schools, but it also features a 400-meter track that hosts the South Dakota High School Activities Association State Track & Field Meet. The stadium seats 10,000 fans and is home to the Howard Wood Dakota Relays, in which more than 3,000 middle and high school athletes compete. Meanwhile, the University of Sioux Falls Sports Complex includes the nine-lane Lillibridge Track for the Cougars track and field teams.
“Not just for track and field but for all sports, we are conveniently located in the Midwest,” Vant Hul says. “And we have passionate fans that fill the seats.” SDM