EUGENE, Ore. – Oregon Track Club Elite’s Nijel Amos, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 800 meters, made his TrackTown Tuesday debut before a crowd of 150 at the Downtown Athletic Club on March 6.
Amos, appearing alongside OTC Elite teammates Harun Abda and Tom Farrell, closed the show, which also featured a step back in time with an appearance by four of legendary Oregon coach Bill Bowerman’s sub-4-minute milers, plus a glimpse into the future from four young Duck throwers.
Joining OTC Elite just last year, Amos is the fourth-fastest all-time performer in the 800m with a personal best of 1 minute, 41.73 seconds. The native of Botswana clocked that time in winning a silver medal as a teenager at the 2012 London Olympics – the first Olympic medal ever won by an athlete from Botswana.
“Coming (to Eugene) now, from a region where running was just a sport, to a place where running is a lifestyle,” Amos said. “It just gives you so much motivation when it comes to being a better athlete and being a better person.”
Abda, a member of OTC Elite since 2014, earned six Big Ten titles and 13 all-American awards during his time as a Gopher at the University of Minnesota. After graduating, there was no doubt he wanted to move west to Eugene to begin his professional career.
“If you know anything about track and field, you want to be in Eugene,” Abda said. “Hayward Field will always be my favorite track.”
Farrell, like Amos, is also from outside the U.S. He grew up in Great Britain and attended Oklahoma State University, where he set four top-10 all-time marks in the distance events. He competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics and was a finalist at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in the 5,000m.
He has his eyes set on competing at Oregon21 – the 2021 IAAF World Championships at Hayward Field.
“With this being home, and just being able to hopefully compete on a track that we train on all the time is the ultimate goal,” Farrell said.
Under Bowerman, 10 runners broke the 4-minute mile barrier training on that same track.
Out of the four that shared the stage on Tuesday, Archie San Romani Jr. did it first in 1964 as a senior. Wade Bell and Roscoe Divine both broke the barrier at the 1966 Oregon Twilight meet. Dave Wilborn joined the sub-4 club as a junior in 1967 at 3:56.2, which stood as the school record at the time.
Seeing Romani set the pace at Oregon helped push the other three runners into joining the UO team and strive for the same goal on the track.
“Archie got me started running when I was a sophomore in high school,” Divine said. “I was a basketball player and a football player, then I met Archie, and Archie is a very good salesman. I went home and told my basketball coach I was quitting, and that I was now a runner.”
In high school, Bell remembers seeing a picture of Romani leading a pack of runners off the Bowerman turn at Hayward Field. Romani would finish the mile race under four minutes and the photo’s moment would forever spark a determination in Bell to do the same.
Jokingly, the crowd booed when Wilborn mentioned he had briefly considered going to Oregon State. Yet, it was the tradition of Bowerman, former UO coach Bill Dellinger and Romani that convinced him to become a Duck.
For Romani, it was Bowerman himself that convinced him to come to Oregon.
“When you meet Bill Bowerman, and he looks you in the eye and makes a few comments to you, you say to yourself, ‘That’s the guy I want to be my coach,’” Romani said followed by an uproar of applause from the crowd.
The men concluded that even though their days at Oregon are long in the past, they will always have the Oregon and Bowerman-based runner mentality in everything that they do.
“When I was 59, I decided to become a cyclist,” Wilborn said. “Even at that age, I still wanted to compete and race against people. And I think all that is carried over from my years as a runner at the University of Oregon.”
Current UO throwers Maddie Rabing, Sydnee Walker, Max Lydum and John Nizich understand that mentality.
For the three Oregon natives – Rabing, Lydum and Nizich – they first experienced the Hayward Field hype at the Oregon High School State Championships.
“(The high school state meet) is such a great illustration of the tremendous organizational capacity of what we got going on here,” Lydum said of competing in the shot put at the state meet for Central High School.
Rabing, a 2016 graduate from Lakeridge High School, felt it even more when she finally got to put on the Oregon uniform.
“It’s a different experience when you are actually wearing the Oregon uniform and you’re directly competing for Oregon,” Rabing said. “I really think the community here around track, just makes it a really great atmosphere. Everyone is cheering for everyone, it doesn’t matter if they know you or not.”
Walker, a freshman from Roswell, Georgia, is new to the community, but she has already earned the No. 6 ranking on Oregon’s all-time top-10 list in the indoor weight throw. Now, she’s learning how to transfer that energy into the upcoming outdoor season.
“(I’m) trying to take that energy that I learned from indoors and set the PRs from there and try to move that into outdoors,” Walker said. “I’m looking forward to putting on the Oregon uniform again and getting some big numbers in the hammer.”
The next TrackTown Tuesday will be held on April 3rd at the Downtown Athletic Center at 7 p.m.
Video by: Nicholas Lackides