TrackTown Tuesday Kicks off the Olympic Year with a Bang

TrackTown Tuesday couldn’t have started its 2020 series off with a more riveting opener than the exclusive showcase of “The Hunt,” a short film documenting the time trial turned epic performance that went down in September at the iconic “track in the woods” on Nike’s Beaverton headquarters.

While any race on U.S. soil that sends three men to a 5,000m in 13:00 or below is noteworthy in rarity, on display in “The Hunt” are the unquantifiable aspects that go into breakthrough performance trust in teammates, energy from a psyched crowd, the abundance of f-bombs (a la Shalane Flanagan) needed to make it feel real.

Jeff Merrill and Julian Heninger recount their experiences from the Portland 5000 in front of the TrackTown Tuesday crowd. Photo by Jake Willard

Jeff Merrill and Julian Heninger recount their experiences from the Portland 5000 in front of the TrackTown Tuesday crowd. Photo by Jake Willard

The film exudes a kind of raw energy, one that filmmaker Jeff Merrill and race participant, Julian Heninger, likened to that of Hayward’s magic. In fact, the old Hayward Field inside rail was pulled from storage to stand guard at the race. Pointing to the knowledge of the crowd at the race, Merrill notes: “We had high school kids running across the track, bending down just to touch it.” Heninger, an Olympic marathon trials qualifier, was in the race so that there would be five finishers, the number required for it to be eligible to run the Olympic standard. “Varsity called and JV didn’t flinch,” he said good-naturedly of Bowerman Track Club Head Coach Jerry Schumacher reaching out to fill spots in a race that would feature some of the sport’s biggest names: 2016 Olympic gold medalist Matt Centrowitz, multi-time U.S. champion Lopez Lomong and 2019 USATF outdoor bronze medalist Woody Kincaid, paced by Mo Ahmed, holder of eight Canadian records, who had already achieved the Olympic standard.

The documentary is being toured next in New York and Texas. When it becomes available online it will be a must see for any runner needing a reminder of what the sport looks like at its best – in both its quantifiable and intangible senses.

The second segment of the evening featured University of Oregon distance athlete Carmela Cardama Baez and UO associate head coach Helen Lehman-Winters, who recounted Baez’s breakthrough performance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last year with a second- place finish in the 10,000m. It was her first time at the meet.

Carmela Cardama Baez and her coach Helen-Lehman Winters share a laugh as the recall Cardama Baez' second place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2019. Photo by Jake Willard

Carmela Cardama Baez and her coach Helen-Lehman Winters share a laugh as the recall Cardama Baez’ second place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2019. Photo by Jake Willard

Without eligibility left for cross country, Baez and Lehman-Winters were able to focus on performing well early in the indoor season. Baez ran a 15:25 5,000m in December, demolishing the UO record formerly belonging to renowned alum, Jordan Hasay. Baez and Lehman-Winters have big goals in mind for the upcoming Olympic year. As Baez phrases it, drawing from her experience as an international student from Spain, and a transfer to UO after spending two years at Florida State: “I haven’t come this far only to come this far.”

The third segment of the evening carried on this theme of track as a sport that tests not only one’s physical, but also mental endurance. New member of OTC Elite, Chanelle Price, was candid about the race anxiety and immense pressure to perform she faced in college, after dropping a 2:01 800m at the Prefontaine Classic in 2008…at age 17. Winning at World Indoor Championships six years later was what Price openly called her “first really good race since high school.” She’s navigated her way through a series of unsatisfying years in the sport with the assertion that, “when you’re thinking about giving up, remember your why.”

Oregon Track Club Elite's Chanelle Price is introduced to the TrackTown community at the 2020 premier of TrackTown Tuesday. Photo by Jake Willard

Oregon Track Club Elite’s Chanelle Price is introduced to the TrackTown community at the 2020 premier of TrackTown Tuesday. Photo by Jake Willard

If the rest of the TrackTown Tuesday series is anything like its opener, citizens of TrackTown USA are in for a special season.

 

Video by Jay Bendlin