On the Right Track
31 May, 2018By: Michael Popke
Operators of Facilities are Recognizing the Value of Hosting Track and Field Meets
A “theater for track and field”? That’s the goal of a major renovation slated to begin this summer at iconic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. With completion scheduled for 2020, the project (funded entirely by private donations, led by Nike co-founder Phil Knight) will allow the fabled facility in Eugene to host the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Outdoor Championships in 2021, a first for any U.S. venue
“We’ll have the finest facility in the country,” says Janis Ross, executive director of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission.
Hayward Field — a popular venue for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials, the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the Nike Prefontaine Classic and the Pac-12 Track and Field Championships — will turn 100 years old in 2019. But the facility will be out of commission as crews work to install a new nine-lane track and expand seating from 10,500 to 12,900 with roomy chair-back seats (capacity can be further expanded to almost 30,000 for the World Outdoor Championships). Unobstructed sight lines with front-row seats “virtually on the top of the track,” according to university officials, will enhance the experience for both athletes and fans.
Rising above the stadium will be the nine-story Bowerman Tower, a symbol of the Olympic torch that pays homage to Bill Bowerman, Oregon’s longtime track coach and Team USA’s head coach in the 1972 Olympic Games. The top of the tower will feature a 128-foot-high observation deck with panoramic views of the track and campus.
The temporary shutdown of Hayward Field will be worth the inconvenience, according to Ross, who was part of an organizing group from Oregon that traveled to London last year to observe how that city hosted the 2017 IAAF World Outdoor Championships.
“In London, the marathon route went by famous landmarks,” she says. “We know there is going to be a large group of spectators and media in Eugene, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that there will be a global audience watching a small county hosting a big event. This is an opportunity to highlight all that we have to offer. To put this into perspective, based on size, the World Outdoor Championships is the third-largest sporting event in the world, behind the Olympics and the World Cup. I don’t think people in the United States quite grasp how incredibly popular track and field is in other parts of the world.”
Eugene isn’t the only U.S. city helping boost track and field’s profile. The following seven destinations also deserve your attention.
Des Moines, Iowa
While Eugene might officially be known as “Track Town USA,” Des Moines — thanks to Drake University and the Drake Relays — can easily be called “Track Central.”
“We are full-bore track and field here,” says Ryan Vogt, national sales manager for Catch Des Moines, the city’s convention and visitors’ organization. “
The USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships will return to Des Moines in 2018 and 2019. The country’s top track and field athletes (including medal winners at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio) will compete at Drake University’s Drake Stadium in what will be the final stop of the 2018 USATF Championship Series. The city also hosted the event in 2010 and 2013.
What’s more, Des Moines will welcome the 2018 and 2023 AAU Junior Olympic Games, with Drake Stadium serving as the hub for track and field events.
“It’s the largest event the city could host in any sport,” Vogt says, adding that the two-week event will likely result in 30,000 room nights. “Track and field is the gem of the AAU Junior Olympics, and these athletes will be the next up-and-comers.”
Drake Stadium also hosted the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 1970, 2008, 2011 and 2012. It annually hosts the Drake Relays, which celebrated its 109th year in April, as well as the Iowa High School Co-Ed State Track and Field, considered the largest attended high school co-ed state track meet in the country. To bring the excitement of the Drake Relays to the larger Des Moines community, an annual pole vaulting competition is held in the atrium of Capital Square, a large 10-story downtown office building.
The all-brick Drake Stadium opened in 1925, and a new blue, eight-lane track surface and turf were installed in 2016.
Drake Stadium may be one of the country’s oldest high-profile track and field stadiums, but the Marshall Regional Track and Field Complex is among the newer ones.
Part of the Southwest Minnesota State University campus, the complex is the result of a partnership between SMSU and Marshall Public Schools. A renovation and expansion of the old Mattke Field Stadium, the new facility includes a nine-lane, double-bend 400-meter track, a water jump pit, a hurdle for the steeplechase and a high jump area. Just north of the stadium are areas for long jump, triple jump, pole vault, shot put, discus and javelin. The track rings a synthetic turf multi-purpose field.
The facility’s grand opening was in 2015, prior to the first high school track and field meet held at the complex.
“Marshall takes pride in having some of the best facilities in the Midwest,” says Darin Rahm, director of the Marshall Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, adding that local officials would like to bring additional high school and college track and field events to the complex.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Further east, Winston-Salem can lay claim to North Carolina’s only dedicated, privately owned and operated indoor track facility. JDL Fast Track, anchored by a 200-meter oval, has hosted four national championships since opening in 2012 and is slated to host the 2021 NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track Championships.
With a 100-meter warm-up track and seating for 1,700 spectators, the facility also boasts 10 high-definition televisions displaying real-time field event results, plus five high-definition projector screens for video playback. Field event areas include two pole vault runways, two long/triple jump runways, one high jump apron and one throwing area.
The facility welcomed the 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association Indoor National Championships, the 2015 NCAA Division III and 2014 Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships, as well as the 2015 USA Track and field Southeast Region Masters Indoor Championships. The latter will return in 2019.
“Before JDL Fast Track, indoor track and field was not on our radar,” says Christian Schroeder, director of sales and services for Visit Winston-Salem, adding that the facility is exploring opportunities with other sports, including gymnastics, cheerleading and dance. “It continues to grow each year, and track and field is quite high on our radar now. We’re fortunate to have the facility here, along with a passionate community behind it.”
Winston-Salem also offers an outdoor track at Wake Forest University, which hosted the 2014 USATF Masters Outdoor Championships.
Lake County, Florida
Track and field also registers high on the radar at the National Training Center, a 300-acre sports, health, fitness and education campus in Clermont, Florida, in southern Lake County, near Orlando. The facility offers an aquatic center, a cross country course, multi-purpose athletic fields, baseball and softball diamonds, and a track and field complex with a 400-meter track and a grass infield with two long jump and triple jump runways, two pole vault runways, two shot put/discus/hammer cages, two javelin runways and one high jump pit and apron.
The National Training Center has emerged as a preferred site for recent Olympians, plus college and international teams.
“A large portion of activities at the track are training, opposed to competitions,” says Brody Douglass, a sports marketing specialist for the facility, rattling off the names of such high-profile track and field athletes as Tyson Gay and Tori Bowie. “From January to June, we have a lot of the Olympic athletes who are training for pro meets and the Olympics. It’s a destination for warm-weather training. We have several colleges and a few high schools that come to train December through February.”
In addition, he notes, several triathlon and track performance teams train in Lake County throughout the year including Ecuador, Finland, Great Britain, Germany and the United States.
The facility hosts about seven track and field competitions every year, including professional, high school and age-group meets. The National Training Center will host track and field events for the 38th National Veterans Wheelchair Games this summer, too.
Another 300-acre one-of-a-kind sports complex sits in Oxford, which is about an hour’s drive east of Birmingham. Track and field amenities are part of a facility that also provides opportunities for baseball, soccer and other activities.
“It has far exceeded anything we thought it would do,” says Jack Deal, director of city-owned Choccolocco Park. “The mayor and many others involved in the park project have a love for track and ran track when they were in high school. They had a vision and knew a track could be a very good thing for us. So they incorporated it.”
The park’s track and field facility features an eight-lane track built to NCAA regulations and allows for hammer throw, steeplechase, javelin, pole vault, long jump, triple long jump, high jump, discus and shot put. Several high school and city recreation track teams use the Choccolocco Park facility, Deal says, and plans call for increasing access to the track and field complex to accommodate larger meets.
Another city attempting to boost its track and field presence is Boise. The Jacksons Indoor Track at the Idaho Sports Center is a collaboration between Boise State University, Jacksons Food Stores and the Idaho Center in Nampa.
The 200-meter track includes six banked lanes on the oval and an eight-lane straight track in the middle, with a surface that meets NCAA and USATF regulations. It also is the only indoor track facility in the Pacific Northwest suitable for championships and world-class competition, according to the facility’s website.
Additionally, Boise is home to the Ed Jacoby Track at Donna Larson Park, another Boise State facility and site of the popular high school Boise Relays.
“It’s nice to have indoor and outdoor tracks in one city,” says Taylor Williamson, sports and convention sales manager for the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People are surprised to find out we have both. Track and field is not one of our main sports, but it has grown over the years, and having well-known facilities can only help us.”
Rutherford County, Tennessee
Having a well-known facility has put Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on the track and field map. Rutherford County has hosted the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Spring Fling since 2006 and will do so through at least 2021. The Olympic-style event brings in 5,000 athletes and 25,000 spectators, and it requires 1,000 volunteers. Held every May, the Spring Fling crowns state champions in track and field, as well as baseball, soccer, softball and tennis.
The track and field events are held at the Dean A. Hayes Track & Soccer Stadium on the Middle Tennessee State University campus, which boasts an eight-lane track. MSTU also will host the 2018 USATF Region VI Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in July.
“Hosting these events are so memorable for us and the participants,” says Barbara Wolke, senior vice president of the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which was recognized as a 2107 Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism by Sports Destination Management. “You can’t put a price on that.” SDM