TrackTown, USA officially reopened its home on Friday afternoon.
After two years of remodeling and delays due to COVID-19, Hayward Field’s long-awaited reopening has arrived. The newly renovated $200 million stadium reopened to track and field competition for the first time as Oregon hosted the Hayward Premiere meet in Eugene.
“Plush. Luxury. Welcome to the five-star resort at Hayward Field,” head coach Robert Johnson said.
The first true track and field venue in the United States, the stadium was designed for the athletes and sports fans alike — unparalleled indoor and outdoor training facilities, research areas, rehab rooms and even a barber shop all located underneath the seats provide the student-athletes with everything imaginable. Unlike other stadiums that were created for multifunctionality, Hayward is the first of its kind.
“The theatre for track is real,” Johnson said.
The Hayward Premiere was the first meet that Hayward will host this outdoor season, with future meets that include the West Coast Classic, Oregon Relays, Oregon Twilight and the NCAA Championships.
On night one, the Ducks took home four first-place victories and 14 personal bests in the refurbished facility. For the first time in two years, athletes were cheered on by a limited number of friends and family in attendance. It provided a glimpse of what 25,000 fans in the future will look like.
Senior Austin Tharp kicked off the first event at Hayward with the men’s hammer throw, throwing a personal best of 59.44m/195-0.
"The feeling was unreal," Tharp said. "Just walking in with all the officials and other competitors, it felt like Hayward magic was back. I'm from Eugene and my last home meet was the Oregon Twilight in 2018, so it was really nice to have family watching me compete at Hayward again for the first time in a few years."
Redshirt junior Aneta Konieczek made her mark on the first outdoor meet of her career in the steeplechase. The Poland native ran a 9:59.42 and moved to No. 3 on the top-10 all-time list for Oregon. She is the first woman since 2016 to dip under 10 minutes in the event.
“It was amazing to be out there today and have a pretty good opener,” Konieczek said. “I was just really excited, not only because it’s been awhile but also, it’s our track and I’d never raced at Hayward [Field] before. You could hear everyone and even with the smaller crowd — the magic was there.”
As the sun set behind the 76 curved, soaring wood supports that encompasses the track, the stadium lights radiated. Under the Friday night lights, sophomore Cole Hocker won the men’s invitational 1500m in an NCAA-leading time of 3:38.99.
“It was definitely different and even though it wasn’t a full stadium, there was something different about the energy especially with other teams being in there and in the mix,” Hocker said. “They definitely put on a good race, too. It was fun.”
Entering Friday, Hocker was No. 1 in the NCAA entering the weekend. With his competitors right on his heels, Hocker gave a late surge to create separation to win it in the first home meet of his career.
“I just went in with one goal to win and I executed that,” he said. “I’m really happy about it because of where we are in training and completely training through this race and not really prepping specifically for this. I’m happy with the result.”
At one point, Johnson took a step back and sat in the stands for the first time not as a coach, but as a fan. He sat and watched from the green and yellow seats as the races and events unfolded before him.
Freshman decathlete Jett Kinder felt the presence of his fellow teammates and the fans in attendance, throwing six successive personal best throws in the javelin.
“You heard the fans and the team getting behind him, and he throws his hands up,” Johnson said. “You can see the excitement there too and that’s great to see.”
Up next, Oregon’s Tori Sloan took home a double win in the women’s long jump in first place and a personal best of 5.92m/19-5.25, the Ducks’ fourth win of the night.
Capping off the opening day was senior Carmela Cardama Baez in the 10,000m and finished in third at 32:57.01. The 2019 NCAA outdoor runner-up nearly topped her personal best of 32:55.50.
“I’ve really been looking forward to this race mainly to have people coming to Eugene and seeing how excited they are to be here,” Cardama Baez said. “I feel like this is my home and I’m welcoming everyone to my house to do my favorite things which are running and racing.”
On Saturday, the countries of 156 flags that extend as far as Jane Sanders Stadium swayed in the 8 mph winds as the Hayward Premiere began its final day of competition.
The Men of Oregon dominated the 800m that included four runners all under 1:50. Hocker once again led the Ducks at 1:46.60 — No. 7 in program history — with sophomore Luis Peralta close behind at 1:47.55 — No. 5 in program history. Hocker and Peralta finished first and third overall, respectively.
Senior Cooper Teare was the third Duck under 1:50 at 1:48.99, while redshirt junior Reed Brown finished 1:49.95. Oregon’s Matt Wisner barely missed the 1:50 time at 1:50.31 and finished in fifth.
Oregon concluded its first outdoor meet at home with nine victories and more than a dozen personal bests.
From a full indoor practice facility to a 3,200 square-foot weight room, a waffle shop nutrition area and a team auditorium, Oregon has all the tools under a world class stadium to pursue another national title.
“They'll remember this for the rest of their lives,” Johnson said. “But wait until we have the real Hayward and people are here, and you can't hear the person next to you because it's so loud. That's the Hayward Field they remember, and the Hayward Field I want them to experience.”
Follow Carly on Twitter @carlyebisuya.