Some of the most powerful men in track and field passed through Eugene this week and, for a few minutes Monday afternoon, sat behind microphones at Matthew Knight Arena.
The crowd of assembled journalists roughly equaled the one that gathered earlier in the day to interview Scott Frost, the offensive coordinator for the University of Oregon football team.
That says more about the state of track and field in America than it says about TrackTown, USA, either as a community or as a local organizing committee. The people pushing Eugene’s bid for the 2019 World Outdoor Championships are doing impressive work, and the community behind them genuinely cares about the sport.
It’s just that, here in the U.S., track doesn’t move the needle the way it does in other countries. Sebastian Coe, chairman of the IAAF evaluation committee and perhaps the next president of track’s international governing body, alluded to as much in a 2011 interview excerpted recently in The New York Times.
“I know damn well we would love to get the world track and field championships to the U.S., but we’re unlikely to get them to the U.S., given the current framework we have for them,” Coe said then. “The reality of it is, you guys do not watch things over 10 days.”
Monday, Coe was resolute in describing Eugene as a viable location for the 2019 competition. He demurred when asked about the idea that Americans lack the attention span for a 10-day meet — “I don’t actually remember being quoted on that,” he said — and expressed confidence the event would receive a warm reception from people in Eugene.
“It’s a very easy and obvious thing to say: This is a community that understands track and field,” said Coe, part of the touring delegation that is visiting Eugene, Barcelona and Doha, Qatar, in advance of the IAAF’s Nov. 18 vote.
He’s right, of course. Not everyone in Eugene is a track nut, but speaking unscientifically, we have more hardcore fans per capita than anywhere in the U.S.
Admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar. Eugene doesn’t have much competition for its title as the U.S. capital of track and field, and that’s among the issues the IAAF will have to consider as it evaluates the potential World Championship sites.
Does Eugene’s passion for track outweigh America’s overall malaise? Is the chance to stage this event on U.S. soil attractive enough to offset the lack of big-city infrastructure?