UO coach Johnson dazzles at TrackTown Tuesday

The second TrackTown Tuesday of 2020 lived up to its mission statement to cover the sport at all levels–community, collegiate and elite.

First up was Oregon track and field head coach Robert Johnson and three of his jumpers: Rhesa Foster, Isaiah Griffith and Lexi Ellis, all of whom sit in the second place spots on the UO all-time indoor performance lists in either the long jump or triple jump. Griffith, in fact, informed the crowd, “I plan on winning both.”

Oregon track & field head coach Robert Johnson shares stories about his horizontal jumpers Rhesa Foster, Lexi Ellis and Isaiah Griffith. Photo by Jake Willard

Oregon track & field head coach Robert Johnson shares stories about his horizontal jumpers Rhesa Foster, Lexi Ellis and Isaiah Griffith. Photo by Jake Willard

The heart of the segment belonged to Johnson, who went off-script to fit in some real talk with the Eugene community about Hayward Field. Johnson said the most common questions he’s received about the field over the past two years have been: What’s up with that tall thing? (in reference to the tower attached to the stadium). According to Johnson, the tower was designed to resemble the Olympic torch. Is it going to be ready for PAC-12s? Johnson adamantly shut down rumors that the plan was to host PAC-12s elsewhere: “There have always been contingency plans because that’s just good organization–remember this time last year we were experiencing what people were calling ‘snowmaggedon,’” Johnson chuckled, “but the plan is still to host PAC-12s at our new stadium on May 16th.” He added that there would be a reveal ceremony for the athletes before that, since “There’s people on our team that have never run on Hayward Field and that’s crazy to me.” The venue has long been an important symbol not only of the UO program’s success, but also the broader Eugene community’s commitment to and appreciation of the sport and its history. Finally, so, exactly how many people is this stadium going to fit? Johnson’s answer to that was, it’s not 100 percent yet, but regular seating is expected to be around 12,700, and expandable seating going up to 27,500.

In the second segment, UO School of Journalism and Communications professor Lori Shontz, of “track class” fame, revealed her inspiration for the now highly-sought after class–the Croke Park Classic. This was a football game between Penn State (where Shontz formerly instructed) and UCF that was played in Ireland. Penn State developed a program for student journalists to cover the game like professionals. Shontz adapted the same model and since 2015 her track class has covered all major meets at Hayward Field. In total, students have produced 636 stories–169 of which were for professional publications. Shontz took the program a step further this past fall, organizing the opportunity for four UO students to travel to Doha to cover the 2019 IAAF World Championships, a dry run for when the event comes to Oregon in 2021.

University of Oregon journalism professor Lori Shontz recalls her experience teaching "track class" with the TrackTown Tuesday crowd. Photo by Jake Willard

University of Oregon journalism professor Lori Shontz recalls her experience teaching “track class” with the TrackTown Tuesday crowd. Photo by Jake Willard

Shontz’s track class will be out in full force at the Olympic Trials this spring, where she’ll potentially be inspiring students to follow her own path. “It became very clear at a young age that I wasn’t going to the Olympics as an athlete,” said Shontz, “So I told my parents that I’d find another way to get myself there.”

The final segment featured new OTC Elite member Will Paulson. Born in the UK, Paulson attended Princeton and used his final year of eligibility at Arizona State. While at Princeton he narrowly missed out on the NCAA 1500m final in both 2017 and 2018, the latter by mere hundredths of a second. “Some people are complaining about the new Hayward, but I’m kind of glad to see it go,” joked Paulson, who definitely did not have the “Hayward Magic” experience. His fortunes turned after a year of hard work at Arizona State, after which he emerged as the PAC-12 champion in the 1500m.

Oregon Track Club Elite newcomer Will Paulson is welcomed to the TrackTown community. Photo by Jake Willard

Oregon Track Club Elite newcomer Will Paulson is welcomed to the TrackTown community. Photo by Jake Willard

Paulson, who holds citizenship for both Britain and Canada, ultimately made the decision to compete for Canada on the world stage. “Most of my mother’s family is still in Quebec, and I grew up speaking French at home,” Paulson explains of his decision. “Even though I grew up in the UK, I’m very connected to French-Canadian culture.”

Paulson was crowned the Canadian champion in the 1500m in 2019 and snagged a bronze medal in that event in his first appearance for Team Canada at the 2019 Pan Am Games.

The next TrackTown Tuesday will take place on April 7.