SportsTrack & Field

On track to Berlin

The national stage is again coming to the University and Eugene as the 2009 United States Track and Field National Championships take over Hayward Field from June 25-28. A year after the USA Olympic Trials showcased Eugene as Track Town, USA, athletes will compete to represent their country at the World Championships in Berlin in August.  
“This is another step in pushing the Track Town, USA brand and what we are trying to accomplish,” director of track and field Vin Lananna said. “We have the US Nationals this year, the NCAA Championships next year, the US Nationals in 2011, and the US Olympic Trials in 2012. And every single (one) is jam-packed on both the men’s and women’s side with fabulous athletes.”
But this year’s event will be different from the 2008 Olympic Trials, with much more lax security and no closed streets for long periods of time.
Vicky Strand, a representative of the Track Town USA committee, said it will be more like a normal track event for fans.
“The security is not going to be like the trials. It’s going to be more like a football game,” Strand said. “You’ll be going up to the gates of Hayward Field and having your bags searched and that’s it.”
It will also be more like a Duck track meet because a lot of familiar faces who recently finished the NCAA Championships will compete. Andrew Wheating, Galen Rupp, Rachel Yurkovich and Ashton Eaton will compete, as will incoming Ducks Jordan Hasay, Mac Fleet and Elijah Greer.
Local Oregon Track Club Elite members Nick Symmonds, Christian Smith, Lauren Fleshman, Kara Goucher and Jesse Williams will also compete.
Symmonds and Williams, who are reigning national champions in the 800 meters and the high jump, respectively, are excited for the chance to stay in front of the home crowd.
“The great thing about having the championships in Eugene is that we have a home-field advantage,” Symmonds said. “Nothing pumps me up more than seeing a full crowd and everyone standing and cheering.”
Both athletes hope to repeat this year, but the stiff competition and longer qualifying rounds will affect whether they are part of the US team that travels to Berlin.
“I’m not concerned,” Symmonds said. “We’ve been training hard these last couple of weeks; I’ve been training more like a miler to give me a good aerobic base that should get me through the three rounds.”
“There’s a little bit more pressure because people want to see us win, but it’s the type of pressure me and my teammates thrive on. It lifts us and gives us confidence,”
Symmonds continued.
“It’s definitely going to be a long competition for myself, especially if I’m jumping towards the end. It’s something I’m kind of concerned about,” Williams said. “I’ll have to stay warm so I’ll come in at a lower height than usual to stay in form.”
But Williams says the experience of being on the Olympic team will give him an edge.
“I learned a lot after the Olympics,” he said. “I’ve had a very consistent year and now that I’ve been on a few world championship teams I know what it takes. I feel like this is my year to do big things. I’m really excited about it.”
Besides local athletes, world-class athletes Tyson Gay, Jenn Stucynski and others will all attempt to make the team. The competition, Symmonds says, is almost more intense than
trying out for the Olympics.
“The selection process for the world championships is actually more rigorous than the Olympics because the qualifying standard is tougher,” he said. “To an athlete, it’s a huge deal to make a world team. There’s more pressure for the Olympics because its once every four years, but it’s an honor to make it to worlds.”
Fans who are converging on Eugene for the four-day event will find the pavilion at the turf fields adjacent to Hayward Field much like it was last year. Organizers are calling it “Track Town Plaza” and there will be the usual kids’ games and food and beverages, as well as a concert during the weekend by the aptly named Phil Bowermans.
However, one thing that won’t be there is the huge presence of the big-screen monitors where fans could watch the action without a ticket.
“It will be a great place to go to stretch your legs after a long day of track and field,” Joe Kaleel of Sports One Marketing said. “Although there won’t be the big screens, there will be opportunities to watch the events from the café.”
“Track Town Plaza is free. It’s an inclusive event for everyone. It’s still going to be a fun even for people who don’t have tickets,” he said.
As for parking, anyone who is familiar with the campus area knows space is limited, and therefore the meet organizers again created the free park-and-ride shuttle from Autzen Stadium. People can park at the stadium and buses will ship them over to the field starting an hour before the day’s events and will run an hour afterward. It will run every half-hour or less, depending on volume.
As the event approaches, everyone is again feeling the palpable excitement that
accompanied last year’s event.
“Every field is full. It’s actually over full,” Lananna said. “The juniors are filling up, too. We are going to have a great, great four days of track and field.”
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