Ten weeks ago, before shelter-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, when sports were still in full swing and the only thing expected to rapidly spread among local households was March Madness, the talk of the track and field community was the construction of Hayward Field.
There was excitement, but there was also anxiety.
Would Hayward Field be complete for the upcoming Oregon season? Would it even be ready for the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in June?
On March 3, during a TrackTown Tuesday town hall at the Downtown Athletic Club, Oregon coach Robert Johnson took the stage as a featured guest and gave an update on the $200 million rebuild.
"Spread the word," Johnson told the crowd that night. "We anticipate on hosting and having the Pac-12 (championship) meet (in May). That’s been the plan all along unless something happens … ultimately, there’s things that we can’t control."
For the record, Johnson was talking about snowstorms, not global pandemics. Either way, the Pac-12 championship meet, scheduled to take place Saturday and Sunday, is in fact, not happening as it was canceled long ago when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of all large public gatherings.
Thus, Saturday’s highly anticipated grand re-opening of Hayward Field after a two-year construction timeline will probably have to wait until 2021.
"It would’ve been great," Johnson lamented earlier this week. "The stadium would’ve been prepared and ready to host the Pac-12 meet and it would’ve allowed us to really start our championship season."
The Oregon men’s team would have been competing for a 14th straight Pac-12 title, while the women’s team would have been going for its 10th conference championship in 12 years following back-to-back second-place finishes to USC.
The star of the weekend, however, would have no doubt been the venue itself, as the doors were going to be open at Hayward Field for the first time since the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship meet.
"We made some promises to the Pac-12 and a lot of other people that Oregon would step up and host this meet on this weekend and I appreciate the people who are working at the stadium, all their hard work, all their overtime and all their commitment to making sure that it was going to be ready," Johnson said. "It was going to be a game-changer for the Pac-12."
Construction has continued at Hayward Field — as was expected to happen between the Pac-12 championship meet and the Olympic Trials in late June — but the pandemic has also allowed for a more flexible work flow.
For instance, the track was scheduled to get its striping this week but with heavy rain predicted, there was a chance that wouldn’t happen, Johnson said on Monday.
Johnson’s work flow has changed as well. He doesn’t have practices or meets to prepare for, but he still has a team of 90 athletes to monitor and manage from afar.
"I check in on them and see how they’re doing and how they’re adjusting and handling things," he said. "This was thrust upon us and we have a lot of people that we deal with so we had to jump to it pretty quick. As far as getting used to it, I don’t know if you ever want to get used to a situation like this. But I will say we’re making the best of it."
Johnson said he keeps busy by making his one phone call a week to recruits, and he talks regularly with his event group coaches and Oregon administrators. He also sends athletes workouts through Zoom.
"At some point in time, someone’s going to push a button and say ‘go’ and we want to be able to jump out of the blocks and hit the ground running," Johnson said. "We know it’s coming, but probably the most disheartening thing is not knowing when. So you can continue to speculate and play those games in your mind, but we have enough plans in place to get started."
And when the Ducks do, they’ll have a new stadium waiting for them.
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