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Lieberman: Head out to Hayward Field before it’s too late

In Eugene, football reigns supreme — not just in terms of the local sports scene, but also in a larger context.@@didn’t he say this in his previous [email protected]@ As we all know, the Fighting Ducks@@[email protected]@ are a dominant facet of local entertainment, culture and pride. That much was evident last weekend, when 44,129 fans showed up at Autzen Stadium to witness what amounted to a glorified intrasquad scrimmage. That crowd was larger than the combined spring game attendances of USC, California, Stanford, Washington and Arizona.

But Saturday marked the end of Oregon’s spring practices and the beginning of a three-month exodus for college football.@@we’s gonna [email protected]@ And while the baseball team has plenty to offer and Oregon golf has had some notable success, there is undoubtedly a void to fill for local fanatics.@@way to put down the baseball and golf [email protected]@ Where can students and sports geeks alike travel to see elite athletic talent compete on a nationally relevant platform?@@[email protected]@

Look no further than Hayward Field.

With track season’s most relevant meets approaching and the Olympic Trials on the horizon, there’s no better time to buy into TrackTown USA. I know that track and field doesn’t get everyone’s pulse racing. But if you’ve never been to Hayward Field for a crucial meet, you’re not giving yourself — or the sport — a fair shake.@@[email protected]@

Hayward Field arguably represents the best home-field advantage in the nation. Oregon fans are impassioned, knowledgeable and unrelenting (and one especially). Don Essig is fond of claiming that it never rains in Autzen Stadium.@@[email protected]@ The same could be said for Hayward Field, and then some. How many sports draw throngs of diehards that hang around for events that can last upwards of five hours?

If the fan environment isn’t enough of a draw, consider Oregon’s storied history in track and field. The Ducks have claimed 18 NCAA National Championships in three disciplines, and have seen a series of significant sports figures (Steve Prefontaine, Phil Knight, Alberto Salazar, Bill Dellinger, Tinker Hatfield) lace up their spikes for the green and yellow.@@[email protected]@

If you’re still not impressed, both the men (No. 22 in the nation) and women (No. 7 in the country) have a legitimate shot at winning a Pac-12 crown and making serious noise at the NCAA Championships. On an individual basis, senior Brianne Theisen is vying for a third NCAA title in the heptathlon, while junior Jordan Hasay (middle distance), senior Luke Puskedra (distance) and sophomore English Gardner (sprints) should be near the front of the pack in their respective events. All four are All-American performers that shouldn’t slide under your radar.@@checked: [email protected]@

OK, so college track isn’t your thing. I’ve still got you covered. With the 2012 Olympic Trials slated to begin in Eugene on June 21@@[email protected]@, you don’t want to be THAT guy. You know, the one whose head is spinning because he can’t tell a steeplechase from the 100 meters. Cheering on the Ducks will help you get the basics of the sport down while familiarizing yourself with some important faces. The latter may be the most intriguing, considering that Theisen and Hasay (along with a contingent of former Ducks) have a realistic opportunity to compete for the U.S. in London. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How stupid would you feel if an Oregon athlete represented your country at the 2012 Olympics, and you had no idea who they were?

So now that I’ve won you over, I’ll tell you what to do. If you’re just getting your feet wet, head out to this weekend’s Oregon Twilight, which begins on Saturday at 5 p.m. While the event doesn’t feature top-notch competition, it should give you a baseline and an idea of what to expect before more distinguished athletes roll into town. It should also allow you to get familiar with the friendly confines of Hayward Field.

The next weekend is when the real fun starts. May 12-13, the Pac-12 Championships take place here in Eugene. If you’re unaware of how outstanding the field should be, here’s a factoid that should blow your mind: When it comes to total Olympic medals awarded, Pac-12 athletes would rank fourth only behind the United States with 2,549, the former Soviet Union with 1,204 and Germany with 1,099. So unless you want to miss history in the making, you should probably drag yourself out to see at least a few of the events.@@[email protected]@

After that, the team will head to the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds in Austin, Texas, followed by the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. And while I won’t implore you to travel across the country, you should stay abreast to how Oregon (and its individual standouts) fare.@@[email protected]@

A sunny afternoon at PK Park is a joyful experience, and Oregon baseball is a strong, competitive program. But don’t sleep on track and field. If you do, you’ll likely wake up this summer wishing you hadn’t hit snooze so many times.

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