Words and photos by REED NELSON, Edited by SIOBHAN CAVAN
In the mid-afternoon on Sunday, the north end of Hayward Field was standing still, but the action on the track was a blur. As Walter Dix ripped around the first turn the crowd noise began compounding, producing a roar at a decibel level usually reserved for a raucous high school football stadium. When he tore through the tape at the finish line at the 200-meter mark in 19.95 seconds to complete his sprinting sweep, the crowd of 10,033 went crazy. Dix finished just three hundredths of a second in front of Darvis Patton, but this is the crowd that appreciates those kinds of subtleties.
“We’re probably the only city in the country that can support the type of track community we have,” said Laura LaMena-Coll, Owner of the Eugene Running Company in the Oakway Center, as well as a former Olympic trial athlete. “If you watch the NCAA Championships, its just the families of the athletes and the athletes themselves who are in the stands. Here we pack them full.”
One of the more affectionate nicknames that Eugene is known by is “Tracktown, USA,” and if this is the epicenter of track and field, then Hayward may just be the sprinter’s St. Peter’s Cathedral. The cathedral like comparisons are almost too easy to conjure: This is a city that idolizes the colossus of footwear, regardless of reputation, because this is also the city that spawned the colossus of footwear. This is a city that has nearly deified a fallen runner because he embodied a spirit still sought after today. On the front of Hayward Field reads: “Home of the Hardest Team to Make” in human-high yellow letters, loudly mocking future hopefuls. It is commemorates a dedication to the craft and the attendees know it.
“There is no where better to watch a track meet,” said Sam Bailey, junior. “Well, there is no where else I would go to watch a track meet. Hayward makes the whole deal.”
And the stadium isn’t the only one that benefits from the track meet. Nike Running had a black and red domed “lab” — which looked like Epcot and the Deathstar mated with an igloo— that housed the lightest and most technologically advanced gear on the market perched at the east entrance to the stadium. They paired this with an annex store adjacent to their lab, which acted as a specialized version of their Oakway Center storefront in order to accommodate the tens of thousands of fans at the event.
The Eugene Running Company also set up shop at Hayward and the clientele picked up over the weekend in the store as well. “We saw a nice increase in the amount of clientele this weekend,” said Shivaun Black, the original founder of the Eugene Running Company, and current Sales Associate. “Of course we always get this nice little swell before the Olympics, but this weekend was very busy because of the championships, which was nice for us.”
But the store is definitely not stretching for a market in this town, as maybe an animal clothing boutique may have to, and that is one of the things that makes Hayward such an electric environment for track and field.
Inside the Eugene Running Company, the walls are plastered with signed pictures and other track memorabilia that any die-hard fan would drool over, paying homage in the form of a collage, pieces coming from “literally everywhere and everyone” according to LaMena-Coll. But this confusion amidst a constant theme is kind of like watching a little Hayward Field. Leaving the stadium Sunday there were no three people dressed in the same supporting colors, but fifteen minutes prior, when Dix snapped the tape, they were all supporting the same idea: the lowest time possible. Period.