Vin's blog: Portland 2016 and the importance of innovation

TrackTown USA President and U.S. Olympic men's track and field head coach Vin Lananna believes that innovation is critical to the future growth of the sport of track and field. (Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA)

(This is the first of a series of monthly blogs written by TrackTown USA President and U.S. Olympic men’s track and field head coach Vin Lananna. The topics reflect his positions on subjects of critical interest to the local, national and global track and field community. April’s theme: Portland 2016 and the importance of innovation in the sport.)

When Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi arrived at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland to receive his gold medal in front of thousands of cheering fans at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships last month, he had one thought on his mind:

“Do they know the Italian national anthem?” he asked.

Not to worry.

The live orchestra, which we had tasked with perfecting and performing the national anthems of each of the gold medalists’ countries, had “Il Canto degli Italiani,” or “The Song of the Italians,” on its play list.

To me, the ensuing scene, in which an emotional Tamberi stood tall on the awards podium, basking in a golden spotlight high above the water fountains and blowing kisses to the crowd, was one of the most memorable moments of the entire event.

It demonstrated the connection between athletes and fans that we were striving for when we first decided to move the medal ceremonies outside of the competition venue to a public gathering place at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

This was not an original concept, but it had never been done at an IAAF event, and the overwhelming success of doing so in Portland was confirmation that innovation, or simply as I tell my team, “trying new things,” is the future of track and field. If we want to grow the sport, create new fans and inspire the next generation, we must continue to dream big, think creatively and not shy away from bold ideas.

We achieved a lot of “firsts” in Portland.

Even before the first medal ceremony, we conducted the official IAAF press conference outside at Pioneer Courthouse Square with VIPs and athletes sharing the stage, eschewing suits and ties in favor of casual attire and opening it up to the public.

Again, it engaged the public, brought the athletes to center stage and was a huge hit with the media, who are also the messengers of our attempts at innovation.

The competition venue itself was a “first” as we built a custom-made indoor arena – with a seating capacity of 7,000 – around a bright green 200-meter banked oval track inside an Exhibit Hall at the Oregon Convention Center.

The reviews were outstanding. In fact, many of the initial media reports focused on the “event presentation” and the intimate atmosphere at the OCC. We also embraced multiple sustainability efforts and displayed the flags of each participating country in a public space of commerce called “Market Street.”

We fully embraced the “rock star” treatment for athlete introductions which are so prevalent in other sports. Prior to each final, we created a theatrical entrance for each of the athletes by dimming the lights, turning up the music and activating fog machines.

U.S. triple jumper Omar Craddock later said: “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.”

Our stand-alone pole vault competition which kicked off the meet was another noteworthy achievement. We had a near-capacity crowd of 6,924 spectators, including 230 high-schoolers, who had 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 overall success of our youth initiatives. We estimated that more than 10,000 youngsters participated in at least one of these programs associated with World Indoors:

·       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 received from parents, coaches and school officials, all of these initiatives will have a lasting impact on those who took part, which lays the groundwork for even more interest and participation in track and field – one of the primary, motivating goals in hosting the World Indoors 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 achievements, 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