Boston — The United States, long the leading nation in track and field, has never staged a world outdoor championship in track and field.
This is both hard to fathom and far from ideal, but for the first time, the possibility of ending that streak looks strong.
Eugene, Ore. — no world city but a definite track hotbed — is one of three candidates bidding to stage the 2019 world championships, along with Barcelona, Spain and Doha, Qatar (yes them again). And on Sunday and Monday, members of the evaluation commission of the International Association of Athletics Federations will be in Eugene to take an in-depth look, with a final decision to come next month.
Eugene, a college town with a population of just 160,000, has its drawbacks: a shortage of infrastructure, including hotels, and an intimate but undersized stadium that even when expanded would be small compared with some of the recent venues in major cities like Berlin and Moscow.
But Hayward Field also has its charms and above all its American address. If Eugene is chosen — and both the I.A.A.F. president, Lamine Diack, and the heir apparent, Sebastian Coe, have made it clear in the past that they believe the United States should get an event of this magnitude — the Pacific Northwest will have both the world indoor championships in Portland in 2016 and the world outdoor championships three years later.
That is the sort of one-two punch that track and field could really use in the United States, where it was once a major diversion but now seems to get major exposure only during the Olympics and when one of its American superstars turns out to be a fraud (see Marion Jones and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative doping scandal in the 2000s).
“Sure, that hasn’t helped, but frankly I tend to think the public has a rather short memory about doping, and I wouldn’t attribute doping to being the reason for the lack of ratings,” said Neal Pilson, a sports media consultant and former president of CBS Sports. “I think it’s more that the American public, when it has choices, and it does have enormous numbers of choices all the time, simply hasn’t been watching track and field over the last 15 to 20 years.”
But Max Siegel, chief executive officer of USA Track and Field, said the specter of doping had long made the organization reluctant to promote individual athletes for fear of further scandal. He said focusing on the sport rather than the individuals had been a handicap in a world where star power was so influential, but he added that he hoped to shift the focus again.
“It’s disappointing to promote an athlete and have them blow up, but generic promotion of a sport is not terribly effective in my view,” Pilson said.
There have been no Summer Olympics in the United States since the Atlanta Games in 1996. The global circuit known as the Diamond League, which also features annual meets in Eugene and New York, has quality but very limited impact in the country. And so the best option appears to be world championships, with the outdoor version still one of the highest profile events in global sport.
“This is their best shot, short of getting three more Diamond League meets so they could have a circuit in the United States every year that would run sequentially for two months,” said Doug Logan, who was Siegel’s predecessor at U.S.A.T.F.
Logan tried to secure a world championship on his watch, but the cost and the lack of a big stadium in a major city with a regulation track foiled the plan. He said that he had been told it cost Berlin $30 million to stage the 2009 championships and that he had been quoted a price between $17 million and $20 million to install and then remove a track at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.