How a college town in Oregon ended up hosting a prestigious international track and field championship

EUGENE, Ore. (KGW) — In one month, Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus will play host to some of the world’s best track and field athletes competing in the World Athletics Championships.

It’s the first time the event has ever been hosted in the United States, and arguably one of the biggest sports events Oregon has ever hosted. About 2,000 athletes representing more than 200 countries will compete.

So how did Eugene — with its solid reputation as “TrackTown USA,” but home to just 170,000 residents — end up the host city for a massive international event? Great facilities, name recognition — and a lot of lobbying.

The recently-renovated Hayward Field certainly plays a big role. It’s widely considered to be the best track and field stadium in the United States, and underwent a massive renovation that was completed in 2020. The World Athletics Championships website calls it “the ultimate track and field experience.”

“I have to believe it all revolves around Hayward field. The magic and history of Hayward Field. This is truly where track and field started. It is the heart and soul of track and field across the United States,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.

Gov. Brown has supported the effort to bring the world championships to Eugene since before she was governor. The effort started years ago, under then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported it began when Vin Lananna, the legendary track coach at the U of O, attended the championships in Daegu, South Korea, and thought Eugene would make a fine host. In 2014, Lananna put together a proposal to hold the games in Eugene in 2019 and lobbied the federation responsible for choosing a host city.

The 2019 championships were awarded to Doha, Qatar. According to The Oregonian, Lananna was not deterred, and in 2015 flew to China to again lobby for Eugene.

It worked.

With no formal bid process, Eugene landed the event for 2021, which was moved to 2022 when the Tokyo Olympics were delayed by the pandemic.

Now, a team is working to make sure it’s ready for the huge event.

“Things are getting ready, things are being built already in Hayward Field. People can see the construction starting for the World Championships overlay and infrastructure. We’ve got our team on board. We’ve been recruiting heavily in the last few weeks and months – but we have a really great strong team on board ready to deliver,” said Sarah Massey, the CEO of the organizing group called Oregon22.

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Oregon tourism leaders are thrilled at the prospect of thousands of out-of-towners.

“The impact of the World Athletics Championships really cannot be overstated. This is the most prestigious track and field event that happens in the world,” said Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon. “It’s one of the largest sporting events that happens on a global stage. It’s perhaps only surpassed by the Olympics and World Cup soccer.”

Davidson estimates direct spending by athletes, teams and fans could range from $50 million to $200 million. And if you’re looking for a hotel room just about anywhere in Oregon between July 15 and 24, good luck.

“We expect rooms to be purchased from Portland to Roseburg, and east and west from Eugene — as far west as Florence and up the McKenzie corridor as well.”

The effort to host the games will take 2,500 volunteers; most have already signed up.

The athletes will include Olympians, world record holders and others who are the best in their sport. NBC will broadcast the event over 43 hours, including the first two days and last two days in primetime.

It’s an opportunity Gov. Brown and many in Oregon are anticipating — both for the economic impact and chance to improve Oregon’s languishing image as a tourist destination.

“More importantly, I expect a billion people to be watching these games. It’s an amazing opportunity for the rest of the world to see Oregon,” Gov. Brown said. “That it’s an amazing place for tourism, that we’ve got incredible beauty and bounty.”

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