EUGENE, Ore. – With the official announcement that 177 countries have expressed interest in competing at the IAAF World Junior Championships this summer, one thing is certain:
This will be the largest IAAF event ever contested on U.S. soil.
The six-day meet, which features the world’s best track and field athletes under the age of 20, will be held July 22-27 at historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.
More than 1,700 athletes from around the world are expected to compete at the meet, which is being staged in the U.S. for the first time, providing a rare home field advantage for Team USA.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for us,” said Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA, the local organizing committee for the IAAF World Junior Championships.
“There are so many cool things going on this year that we’re dubbing it, perhaps, the best season ever at Hayward Field, and that’s a big thing to say about this facility.”
Lananna made those comments at a press conference prior to the Oregon Twilight Meet last week. He was joined by IAAF ambassador Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist from Trinidad & Tobago, who was part of the Pac-12 Network’s broadcast team for the meet.
Boldon vividly recalled his experience at the 1992 IAAF World Junior Championships in Seoul, South Korea.
After a humbling performance at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which he failed to advance out of the opening round in either the 100 or 200 meters, he found redemption a few weeks later when he became the first double sprint champion in the history of the IAAF World Junior Championships.
“For a lot of these young athletes that are coming to the IAAF World Junior Championships, this is the ramp on their career highway,” Boldon said. “They have to decide, ‘Am I good enough to keep going and be a pro, or is this where I exit?’ … for me, I went into it with a chip on my shoulder and created some history. My advice to them, first of all, is have fun and cherish the friendships you’ll make.”
Boldon added that it was “extremely significant” that the IAAF World Junior Championships were being held in the U.S. for the first time.
“The more we can display track and field at its best, and at what we all agree is the sport’s best venue, it helps grow the sport,” he said. “There is a perception abroad that the reason America has never hosted the World Juniors is that we don’t really care, and we know that is not true. Hosting this meet (at Hayward Field) dispels a lot of those preconceived notions.”
In his final collegiate meet as a senior at UCLA in 1996, Boldon won an NCAA title in the 100 meters at Hayward Field. He was asked what he would tell the junior athletes to expect when competing in TrackTown USA.
“I would tell them you’re going to get spoiled,” Boldon said. “The stands are going to be packed and you’re going to be running in front of America’s most knowledgeable fans. If I had to do my career over, I would have run a couple of more times at Hayward Field.
“So, whether or not they know it, they will be starting at the top in terms of this venue, and I hope they come away with a favorable impression of what American track and field fans are like.”
As a former sprinter, Boldon is eager to watch the men’s 100 meters unfold this year, especially after Baylor freshman Trayvon Brommel tied the World Junior record with a wind-legal time of 10.01 seconds earlier this year.
“I feel the United States, in particular, is due to show who’s the next (one) coming,” Boldon said. “You have the older guys, like (Justin) Gatlin and so on, sort of hanging on, and the reason an old lion hangs on is because a new lion hasn’t come up to bite him in the neck.”
“For me, it’s who is going to be the new cub to bite these older guys in the neck in another 24 months when the U.S. Olympic Trials come back here. The World Juniors will give me a very good indication as to who that cub is.”
Boldon is one of three IAAF ambassadors who will be working at the IAAF World Junior Championships, joining two other UCLA alums: 2004 Olympic gold medalist Joanna Hayes (100-meter hurdles) and three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee (heptathlon, long jump).
“We’re all very close and connected,” Boldon said. “We’re extremely proud to represent the IAAF at this event. We’re always excited to be in Eugene, and I’ve already talked to them about how much fun we’re going to have up here at Hayward Field.”