Track Town USA Olympic Trials

The Heritage Athletes Come to Town

program from track & field trials
Track & Field Trials, Day 4 Program

That’s the name which the USA Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association  (yes with the exceptionally long acronym of USTFCCCA) gave the Olympic athletes who were honored at the USA Track & Field Trials in Eugene for the final days of June.
Not Icons, not Legends, but Heritage.  One motto of the Olympians Associations is “Once an Olympian always an Olympian, Never Former, Never Past.”  Even well known and supposedly savvy sports writers make this blunder surprisingly often, referring to Olympians who have retired from competition as former Olympians.   The USATF program for the trials for Day 4, the one featuring Dick on the cover, referred to Bill Toomey, 1968 Decathlon Gold Medalist as a former Olympian,  so clearly the word hasn’t quite reached USATF writers either.

There’s always been a bit of an issue around what TO call Dick and his friends, and the USTFCCCA has hit upon a splendid name.  It’s politically correct,  respectful and accurate.  USTFCCCA brought the Heritage athletes to Eugene to be hosted in outstanding style,  with two waves of athletes staying at the Valley River Inn and attending the Trials in a terrific hospitality suite.  Mandi Magill was in charge of the program; she and her Ace Team of Anji Nussbaum and Rhonda Riley really went out all out and did a fabulous job of taking care of us.

The Heritage Athletes were well received by the knowledgeable  fans who gathered in Eugene for the Trials.   The tickets and programs for each day featured a different athlete,  and we were honored to be there with Joan Benoit Samuelson,  Bob Beamon,  Madeline Manning-Mims,  Wyomia Tyus and Billy Mills.  Others who just showed up included John Carlos and Kenny Moore.  1968 left quite the Heritage.

Ashton Eaton,  WR Holder Decathlon
Ashton Eaton, new WR Holder, and a Big Fan

The 100 years of Decathlon celebration held on Sunday June 24,  the night following Ashton Eaton’s world record win,  was attended by Jim Thorpe’s two sons,  Milt Campbell,  Rafer Johnson,  Bill Toomey and Bryan Clay, as well as London bound World Champion Trey Hardee and new World Record holder Ashton Eaton, and the man whose record was broken, Dan O’Brien.   

Jim Thorpe's son Bill
Bill Thorpe at "100 Years of Decathlon" celebration in Eugene

Unfortunately Dick had to leave for camp in Maine, but at least he got to be there for the high jump preliminaries.  Due to the A standard rules in USATF, it would have taken a big jump from one of the field to displace Jesse Williams, Jaime Nieto and Erik Kynard from their berths on the team,  so at least he didn’t miss a cliff hanger event.  We did get to spend time with Jesse and Chante Lowe, as well as Jeff Skeba (Paralympian high jumper) in New York for the big USOC  shindig marking the 100 day countdown to the London Opening Ceremonies. All three of them jumped during the Exhibition,  hosted by Dick,  along with Natalie Morales,  who I believe hit a Talk Show Host Record of 3’6”...Well  maybe Johnny Carson beat her but she holds the Women's record for sure... 

 

Both Jesse and Chante are such wonderful people,  we really enjoyed joking around and having fun there, and will be standing up cheering as loudly as we can for them and all the rest of Team USA in London.   My experience is that Americans can be really loud in the stands and invariably we get carried away and are Very American. Can't be helped, and no apologies.


Track Town USA is Eugene Oregon,  the home of the Nike and the epicenter of USA Track and Field for the Trials, is located on the Willamette River.  The University of Oregon’s Hayward Field is actually dedicated to track and field alone,  no football, no soccer.  The U of Oregon’s track program has been attracting elite level athletes since legendary coach Bill Bowerman’s days in Eugene.  Oregon has certainly produced more than its fair share of Olympians,  when you consider Oregon State, up the highway in Corvallis.  The ghost of Steve Prefontaine is definitely still present and haunts the town of Eugene, including “Pre’s Trail’, a bark covered trail running along the banks of the Willamette.  Pictures of him are everywhere,  and his legend is still very much in the hearts of the Track Town fans.  Track Town USA and Hayward Field has hosted the trials 5 times and there was buzz of a bid for the IAAF world championships.   They will host the World Junior Championships in 2014 so they will get a chance to impress IAAF with their hospitality and savvy in 2014.  

A word about the Track Town Fans;  exceptional!  I watched in amazement as they sat with blue tarps over their legs for the three days we were there,  in moments of torrential downpour, in their yellow Duck slickers,  cheering and  cheerful.   The stands were full, and despite dismal weather the fans really helped the athletes overcome some of the less than favorable conditions.  For sure Ashton Eaton was driven to make up his 2 second deficit by the collective will of those fans, and their wild support cheering him through the 1500 really impacted his ability to break O’Brien’s record.    

 One of the highlights of the trials was sitting with George Hirsch,  former editor of Runner’s World, who was celebrating his birthday in Eugene with his wife Shay.  They are long time friends of Dick’s and have a home in Sun Valley, so it was extra special to see them in Eugene for what turned out to be one of those magical kismet times to be remembered forever.  A Heritage Moment for sure!

It was so much fun to see old friends, and make new ones. The USA Track and Field Trials were so inspiring, so what better place and time to have a reunion than what was arguably THE track and field event of the year.  Yes, even moreso than London in some ways.  

We may not have #1 in the world in any given event but we sure have a deep field in most, especially in the sprints, so it was truly an amazing meet. It was small and up close, and the level of competition doesn’t get better.   It’s too bad that so many great athletes won’t get to attend the Games, and take their place forever as Olympians,  as only 3 in each event can go.  Nonetheless the rest of the world now knows they better bring their A Game to London if they want to play with Team USA.


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