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TrackTown transformation: How Hayward Field gave rise to Eugene's track culture

TrackTown has transformed over the years as Hayward Field invites the world's best athletes to compete in Eugene. SBG image

Watch #LiveonKMTR Monday, May 2 at 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. for Travis Teich's full story.

EUGENE, Ore. - Hayward Field - the American mecca of track and field.

Since the turn of the 20th Century, Hayward Field has been a University of Oregon landmark. During its early days, the field was named after the Oregon head coach, Bill Hayward.

In the mid-1900s, the program escalated under Bill Bowerman, a man who revolutionized the sport and the business of athletics.

However, it wasn't until the turn of the 21st century that Hayward Field shifted from an American mecca, to the worldwide heart of track and field.

"What we did was we tried to identify what would be the quickest and really the most impactful thing we could do," said Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown U.S.A. "No one person can do something as big and as ambitious as this."

In 2005 Lananna had been recently named head coach of the University of Oregon Track and Field program, replacing Martin Smith.

Lananna said he placed one item at the top of his agenda.

"The University of Oregon would become the most dominant track and field program ever assembled in the history of the NCAA," he said.

But soon it evolved to more than that.

To many, the American mecca of track and field appeared to have lost its touch. Eugene had not hosted the U.S. Olympic Trials since 1980.

That year, politics intervened in the sport. President Jimmy Carter announced the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympics after the Soviet Union refused to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

For a year, the 1980 trials were viewed as the pinnacle of American track and field.

Nearly three decades later, when Lananna took the coaching position, it was time to bring the Olympics back to TrackTown U.S.A.

"We got a group of volunteers together and we talked about what it would take to bring the trials here and we immediately went down that path. In October of 2005, we actually received the nod from the USOC and USATF to host the Olympic Trials in 2008," Lananna said.

"Since 2008, the way in which the sport has elevated the visibility of the region is remarkable," said Dave Hauser from the Eugene Chamber of Commerce. "There's been significant investment in the hospitality industry, especially hotels being built that perhaps may not have happened otherwise."

Economically, the trials brought Eugene to new levels, filling hotels and restaurants. But, the impact of the 2008 Olympic trials isn't always measured with dollar signs.

"Probably equally important, but more difficult to quantify, is how it brings the focus of our nation on Eugene of several days," Hauser said. "It's really hard to put a monetary value on something like that because it's enormous for a place that people may not know otherwise."

The 2008 Olympic trials put TrackTown back on the map.

Historic Hayward Field once again played host to the Olympic trials in 2012 and will do so for a third consecutive time in July of 2016.

The property, sandwiched between 15th and 18th Avenues, has been the site of four NCAA Championships since 2010 and will host a fifth in June of 2016.

In 2014, Eugene was the site of the International Association of Athletics Federation's Junior World Championships.

In March of 2016, the IAAF World Indoor Championships flocked to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

In 2012, the IAAF's self-proclaimed "crown jewel" of the sport, the Outdoor World Championships, will be hosted at Hayward Field.

The field, known as the American stage, has taken the international spotlight. That reputation isn't expected to go away any time soon and Hayward is set to undergo multi-million dollar changes.

The renovations will expand its seating to 30,000 fans, remove the west grandstands and replace them with state-of-the-art facilities.

"2021, it's an opportunity for a legacy in our community. The event will take place over the course of time, but the investments that are made to prepare for it at Hayward Field and elsewhere are a great legacy that will leave our community," Hauser said.

The teardown of the west grandstands will begin after the 2016 Olympic trials.

In a year, the world will be watching as international champions compete in TrackTown USA.

"The international brand for track and field in Eugene is clearly Hayward Field," Lananna said. "I think that when we bid for the world championships in 2021, not everybody in the international community knew about the state of Oregon, especially not Eugene, but what they did know is that track and field is almost like a religion here."

Despite the success of the 2008 trials, Hauser said they learned many things throughout the process. Most importantly, he said they learned how to calibrate the response from fans about the event.

Hauser says other large meets have taught them how to accurately calculate and predict the financial impact of events like the Olympic trials.

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