TrackTown USA hits the mark at Portland 2016

TrackTown USA President, Vin Lananna speaking to 300+ middle school track and field athletes.

PORTLAND, Ore. – When TrackTown USA decided to expand its footprint to the city of Portland a few years ago by putting forth a bid to host the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Oregon Convention Center, we did so with some ambitious goals in mind.

  • We wanted to grow the sport and create new fans.
  • We wanted to inspire the next generation.
  • We wanted to be innovative in our event presentation.
  • We wanted to bring the world’s best athletes to U.S. soil.
  • We wanted to give Team USA a long-awaited home field advantage.

By all accounts, not only did we achieve those milestones, but we exceeded expectations by creating a truly compelling and intimate competition venue – one highlighted by a lightning fast, emerald green track – which led to a string of electric performances by the more than 500 athletes representing 144 different countries.

It was a truly memorable experience; one that will not soon be forgotten by the nearly 40,000 spectators, the officials, the volunteers, the vendors, and most important, the athletes.

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Matthew Centrowitz, Nick Willis, and Jakub Holusa finish within fractions of a second from each other in the men’s 1500m final.

With friends and family in the stands, Team USA performed at historic levels, setting meet records with 23 medals, including 13 gold medals, which was half of the available total. We promised to bring a bit of Hayward Field magic to Portland, and the crowd delivered each night, culminating with the loudest roar of the meet when hometown hero Matthew Centrowitz surged into the lead and held on for the victory in the 1,500 meters.

“They carried me that last 50,” he said of the sold-out crowd. “On my victory lap, I saw just about everyone – my family, friends who had never seen a track race before. It’s awesome having this, not only on U.S. soil, but in my backyard.”

Two of our most successful innovations were the medal ceremonies at Pioneer Courthouse Square and the elaborate athlete introductions prior to each final. Staging the medal ceremonies outside the competition venue was not an original idea, but it had never been done at an IAAF athletics event.

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Birds eye view of the Medal Ceremonies at Pioneer Courthouse Square on the second night of the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016.

Fortunately, we were blessed with good weather, and thousands of people showed up at Pioneer Courthouse Square to enjoy live music, food and beverages, all of which led to the medal ceremonies. It was a surreal scene each night as a live orchestra played the national anthem of the gold medalists; the athletes standing tall on the awards podium, basking in a golden spotlight high above the water fountains, and waving to the cheering throngs below.

You couldn’t help but be moved by the emotion shown at these ceremonies – the tears of joy streaming down the cheeks of Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi blowing kisses to the crowd or a flag-draped Ashton Eaton being mobbed by adoring fans as he entered the Square.

It was exactly the type of “connection” between athletes and fans that we had hoped for when we decided to involve the entire community with the World Indoor Championships by creating a public gathering place at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The athlete introductions were equally well-received.

This has been done in other professional sports for years, but track and field has only recently embraced the concept of competitors entering the stadium, one-by-one, with music blaring, lights dimmed and enveloped in fog.

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Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi entering the Portland 2016 arena.

Said U.S. triple jumper Omar Craddock: “I loved it. That was fun. I’m all about charisma, I’m all about having fun, I’m all about personality and being able to come out and be center stage and be in the eye of everything, and man, that made it fun.”

When asked, World Indoor 60m Champion Trayvon Bromell said that the athlete introductions were his favorite part and that he loved all of the smoke and lights.

In addition, our stand-alone pole vault event which kicked off the meet was a fantastic achievement.

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High schoolers were given front-row seats to watch the Pole Vault Competition on the first night.

We had a near-capacity crowd of 6,924 spectators, including 230 high-schoolers, who participated in our Pole Vault Festival at the Moda Center earlier in the day. The high schoolers were given front-row seats on the track, and the thrill of a lifetime when U.S. champion and World Indoor silver medalist Sam Kendricks took the time to hang out and chat with the kids.

Perhaps the most gratifying outcome of the meet was the success of our youth initiatives. We estimate that more than 10,000 youngsters participated in at least one of these programs:

  • House of Track
  • Portland Indoor Track Classic
  • Middle School 60m Dash
  • Pole Vault Festival
  • 4×400-meter relays during World Indoors
  • Athlete reach-out to public schools

Based on the feedback we’ve received from parents and school officials, all of these enterprises will have a lasting impact on those who took part, which lays the groundwork for even more interest and participation in track and field – the goal we were aiming for in the first place.

Today, as we move forward with the onset of the outdoor track and field season in an Olympic year, our challenge is to build on these successes, to keep finding creative ways to present our sport, and to keep shining a spotlight on the incredible athletes who are at the center of everything we do as an organization, as a community and as worldwide leaders for positive change and growth in the sport of track and field.

Vin Lananna
President, TrackTown USA
2016 Olympic Head Coach – Men’s Track and Field