Track fans know how it feels to watch a race, see the winner cross the finish line, then discover the outcome has been overturned via protest.
Feels like that just happened with the Olympic Trials, no?
It seemed to be a done deal that the Trials were pulling out of Eugene and heading to Mount San Antonio College near Los Angeles in 2020. USA Track & Field announced that decision last summer, to the chagrin of local organizers who successfully staged the meet in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Out of the blue, USATF announced earlier this week it would re-open the bidding. The official explanation, that USATF is concerned about litigation tied to the renovation of Hilmer Lodge Stadium, had people at Mt. SAC calling foul.
“All along the process we were in communication with USATF,” Mt. SAC spokeswoman Jill Dolan said. “Every time there was a legal move, a court action, we kept them in the loop, including our settlement with the city. We felt like everything was on track up until the other day.”
Mt. SAC’s stadium project faced two legal challenges, one from the city of Walnut and another from a group called United Walnut Taxpayers. The first was settled, and Mt. SAC says it was on the way to a favorable outcome in the other. That apparently wasn’t good enough for USATF, which says it hopes to announce a new site by June.
The legal challenges had been out there for months, with USATF publicly standing behind its choice to award the meet to Mt. SAC. What prompted the sudden reversal is anyone’s guess, but the implications for Eugene are clear.
TrackTown just got a re-do.
If USATF ends up awarding the 2020 Trials to Eugene, we’ll have to wonder why it didn’t happen in the first place. That seemed like the logical choice all along, with Hayward Field set for a massive renovation and the World Championships coming to Eugene the following summer.
At the time of the original vote, Eugene didn’t have a firm plan for the new Hayward Field. I’ve been told that wasn’t a big factor in USATF’s decision to look elsewhere, but having a clear vision for the rebuild surely strengthens Eugene’s hand the second time around — that is, if the Hayward Field project doesn’t get bogged down by the same issues that plagued Mt. SAC.
Plans to tear down Hayward Field have been met with criticism from a group hoping to preserve the historic East Grandstand. So far, the opposition has been limited to letters, editorials and a campaign to declare Hayward Field a city landmark. If it went further than that, to the point of lawsuits or injunctions, I’m not sure how USATF could justify awarding the Trials to Eugene after pulling out of Mt. SAC over similar concerns.
To me, the answer is obvious. It’s time for the two sides of the Hayward Field debate to hash things out. Eugene has a second chance to land an event that has been a clear winner for the community, and it would be a shame to see it derailed by squabbles over the stadium project.
That’s not a call for the stadium opponents to stand down. They’ve raised some important issues that, in my mind, deserve to be heard. Instead of blindly plowing ahead with the project, University of Oregon officials would be smart to make a good-faith effort to address their concerns.
I have a few ideas. One would be to release inspection reports showing the extent of the dry rot that has been used to justify tearing down the East Grandstand. Another would be to offer more transparent answers about the seating capacity of the new stadium and how 18,000 temporary seats will be added for the World Championships.
Also, I’d love to see a plan for how the materials from the East Grandstand could be donated or repurposed rather than dumped in a landfill. I know the idea of moving the Grandstand has been explored, and my personal feeling is that it’s impractical. But if usable old timbers could be salvaged in some way, it might ease the sting of knocking down the stadium.
One way or another, the Hayward Field project will move forward. If the new stadium is going to be ready by April 2020, as Oregon says, it makes sense to have the Olympic Trials serve as the grand opening.
I maintain that, more than any other event, the Trials are what separates Eugene from dozens of other college towns across the country. Lots of places can fill a college football stadium on a Saturday afternoon, but few, if any, can match what Eugene does with the Trials.
Like many others, I’m left scratching my head about the timing and rationale behind USATF’s decision to reopen bidding for the 2020 Trials. But if the result is another chance for Eugene to host an event that’s so close to this community’s heart, I can’t see a reason not to go all in.
Right now it’s under review.
Follow @austinmeekRG on Twitter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.