Track and field visionary Vin Lananna is leaving Track Town USA.
On Monday, Lananna was announced as associate athletic director and director of track and field and cross country for the University of Virginia, ending his 14-year stint in Eugene.
Lananna, 66, will return to coaching for the first time since stepping away from the Oregon team in that capacity in 2012 when he turned the reins over to Robert Johnson. He remained an associate athletic director for the Ducks until resigning to take the job in Virginia.
“In my reflections upon the last four decades of my career,” Lananna wrote in an email sent to friends Monday afternoon, “I concluded that I experience the most joy when I am working directly with student-athletes and coaches to build a solid foundation for their future.”
Though his Oregon teams had great success, winning six national titles — three in women's indoor track (2010, 2011, 2012), two in men's cross country (2007, 2008) and one in men's indoor track (2009) — Lananna’s most memorable work came away from the track as he turned Hayward Field and Eugene into the epicenter of track and field in the United States during the past decade-plus by successfully bidding for the biggest meets in the world.
“Vin changed the trajectory of track and field in Eugene for the better,” said Tom Jordan, meet director for the Prefontaine Classic. “I think it’s safe to say all of the big meets we’ve had here would not have happened without him being here.”
As president of the local organizing committee TrackTown USA, Lananna was able to make Hayward Field the landing spot for three U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials (2008, 2012 and 2016), with a fourth coming in 2020, the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships, three USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships (2009, 2011, 2015) and seven NCAA Track & Field Championships (2010, 2013-2018).
He also brought the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships to Portland.
“Vin’s impact on Track Town USA is legendary,” said Michael Reilly, CEO of TrackTown USA. “He’s a very visionary leader. But it’s not enough to be able to say where everybody should be going, you’ve got to inspire people to want to get there and I count myself amongst a whole legion of people that were motivated by those visions.”
Lananna won’t be around to help reel in his biggest catch — the 2021 IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships — or see the grand re-opening this spring of Hayward Field, which is in the midst of an estimated $195 million rebuild to get it ready for the first World Outdoor Championship meet held in the United States.
Landing the world championships has not been without controversy. The U.S. Department of Justice launched a query into the bid as part of a larger global corruption investigation.
Lananna, who was elected president of USA Track & Field in 2016, has been on temporary administrative leave from that role since early 2018 because of the conflicts related to Lananna’s role in the federal investigation. He has since filed a grievance in an attempt to get that job back.
Later in 2018 he resigned as president of TrackTown USA and is also not a part of Oregon21, which is the local organizing committee for the world championship meet.
Still, Andrew Wheating, one of Lananna’s first recruits who would go on to make the 2008 Olympic team in the 800 meters as a sophomore, praised his former coach for what he accomplished in Eugene.
When Lananna took over for Martin Smith, the Ducks hadn’t won a national title since the women’s cross country victory in 1987, and the Olympic Trials hadn’t been in Eugene since 1980.
“I think Vin set out to do something great and he over-excelled,” Wheating said. “I just remember his recruiting speech, ‘I intend to make Hayward Field magic reappear, I’m going to bring the Trials back, I want you to be on national championship teams, I want you to experience the glory of what Oregon running is.’ It was this fairy-tale speech about how Oregon is going to be revitalized. I was 18 years old and I just thought what a load of baloney. But as the years trickled by, it all just happened.”
Judging by his email, Lananna heads to Virginia with his head held high.
“TrackTown USA represents the enviable model for every track community in the world,” Lananna wrote. “I am honored to have played a role.”
Follow Chris Hansen on Twitter @chansen_RG or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.