Malcolm and myself standing under one of the many Track Town USA signs marking entry to the town/city of Eugene

Back from a 3 week US trip, I’ve now had a chance to think about the NCAA’a, Hayward Field and Hayward Field’s suitability to hold a World Athletics Championships.

The NCAA track and field championships are an odd affair for a stranger to collegiate track and field.  It’s an individual championship and a team championship – a men’s and women’s team get to take away the awful looking NCAA’s championship piece of wood on a stand.  For those not familiar with the process, this is broadly how you get to compete at the NCAA’s in reverse order of the process:

  • The top 12 athletes/relay teams from each of the East and West Regionals win the opportunity to compete for the National title
  • The top 48 athletes/relay teams in each of the East and West regions based on their best performances this year get to go to Regionals with the opportunity to be in the top 12

The Regionals act as the early rounds of competition and are designed to deliver 24 athletes/relay teams to the National Championships for effectively semi finals and finals for every track event except the 5 & 10km’s.  The field events except HJ and PV are split into 2 flights where each competitor has 3 attempts.  The 2 flights do not happen simultaneously but one after the other.  The top 9 (yes 9 not 8) athletes then have 3 final attempts and this takes place after a short gap following the completion of the second flight.  The vertical jumps utilize something called a “5 alive” process where there are only 5 athletes jumping at any one time – more on this later.

The top 8 places in the finals garner points for their schools (colleges/universities are refereed to as schools in the US) with 10pts for first place, 8pts for second, 6pts for third down to 1 pt for 8th.  The school with the most points wins the National Title (separate totals for men and for women).  For a school to make a run at the National Title, they don’t need to have a good all round team, but they do need to get a number of athletes through the qualifying process with a decent hope of getting into the top 8 to score points.  Just having athletes compete doesn’t help.

The “5 alive” system for the vertical jumps certainly makes it a little tricky to follow early on.  Let me try and explain.  The first 5 athletes at a height start off the competition (let’s assume there are more than 5 athletes in at the opening height).  As an athlete clears the height another athlete then comes in to that height jumping in their slot according to a traditional jumping order.  As an athlete fails 3 times, another athlete comes in at that height.  So at any one time you can have athletes attempting their 3 jump at a height followed by an athlete taking their first attempt.  So at any one time, there are only 5 athletes actively jumping that height.  The bar doesn’t rise until everyone has completed their attempts at the height (ignoring those passing that height of course).  Once there are 9 or less athletes left in the competition, it reverts to “normal” jumping orders. The advantage to the athletes is that they don’t have to wait for perhaps 20 athletes to jump before they get to have their second attempts (remember the field is 24 athletes  competing in one flight).  Of course an athlete that is successful still has a long time to wait until they get to jump again, but that would be true of a standard competition.  The difference to a major championship is that there are no qualifying competitions that would split the athletes into 2 flights.

That leaves the Championship as quite a tight affair of semi finals and finals for track events and initial attempts and final attempts for the top 9 athletes in the field events in the main providing (excluding the combined events and hammer throws) and 3 hours window of afternoon competition for TV/internet coverage (ESPNU/ESPN3).  However, the structure also means that there are several field events going on at the same time alongside track events.  The layout of the infield at Hayward Field makes this even busier as all the field events are taking place at one end of the stadium (again more on this later).  From an outsider’s point of view, it felt like a contrived event.  The Regional process can mean a distorted balance of performers between the 2 regions e.g. 46.26 in the West  M400m was enough for 12th place whereas 45.71 was needed in the East for 12th place.  I also note that HJ/PV competitions jumped different heights so they are not comparable.

The NCAA have struck a deal with Oregon University to host the Championships for the next 9 years or so (plus they held them in 2013).  Hayward Field is in Eugene, OR right next to the University and not far from the center of Eugene.  It’s a lovely place to come and visit and the folk of Eugene come out in force to watch major athletics (if not necessarily so for OU track meets).  Hayward Field is home of the Pre-Classic Diamond League; it’s hosted the last two and next USA Olympic USATF Trials/Championships; it will host the World Junior Championships later this month. It is exploring the possibility of hosting the World Championships in 2019 which would be the first time the outdoor championships have been held in the USA.

For the NCAA to award their championships to the Pacific Northwest means that most athletes competing have to travel a long way each year.  OU athletes can sit in their dorms where as athletes from Florida get to travel for 18-20 hours.  I hope they are traveling with the books!

From a spectators point of view the home straight looks to have good sight-lines (see second photo from Getty Images below).  There are poles in the top third of the covered stand.  On the back straight the sight-lines are not good as the poles supporting the roof start from the early rows and cause blocks to your view where ever you are sitting except for the first few rows (see third picture below).

Hayward Field from first bend


The layout of the infield is as follows:

  • the long/triple pits are on the inside of the track on the home straight
  • the pole vault is on the inside of the track in the middle of the back straight with approaches from either end of the of straight
  • the high jump beds are on the first bend with the mats on the edge of the infield so jumpers are running from the middle of the infield towards the track rather from the track to the middle of the infield
  • shot put circles are on the edges of the tartan infield throwing into the center of the infield grass
  • there is a javelin runway that cuts between the high jump pits and shot put circles throwing towards the second the bend
  • the discus circle is in the center of the infield (the cage is collapsed in the photo above)
  • the hammer circle is outside of the main stadium on an area behind the first bend
  • there is a warm up area behind the first bend and there are a couple of other athletics tracks a few miles away.

So you can see having multiple field events going on at the same time makes it very busy as it’s all happening in 1 half of the infield.

I can’t see how this configuration will be suitable for the IAAF for a World Championship.  Of course they could be planning to re-organise the infield as part of the bid.  However, there are other issues notably the capacity of the stadium is below a previously stated 40,000 minimum.  The top Getty Images picture shows the layout from the 2008 Olympic Trials.  I’m not sure what that takes the capacity to, probably in the 20’s of thousands.  The press usually take up much of the area by the finish area and around the first part of the first bend.  But if you look at the second Getty Image picture there are steps on the side of the home straight stand by the finish line.  This makes extending seating for media around the first bend pretty difficult.

As you will see in the photos there is no space between the track and the stands.  This means advertising boards are out and material based sponsorship banners need to be deployed around the base of the stands and fences around the bends.  Photographers that don’t normally have trackside privileges typically have access behind the advertising boards but this won’t be possible here.  Instead they will need to also be trackside or in the first few rows in the stands which won’t be good news for the fans behind them.  It’s also not so easy to move in and out of these positions.

Accommodation may also be an issue for those needing top hotels.  For the rest (yes I know we don’t really count) they could possibly do a deal with the University to make University accommodation available which would be great.

Of course everyone is very keen to hold a World Championships in the USA, it’s something that needs to happen and I suspect they will find a way to award the championships to Eugene.  There will be plenty of compromises which may include holding the hammer outside of the main stadium.


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