With four months to go before the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, the general secretary of the world's governing body for track and field delivered one emphatic message Thursday, symbolically standing at the entrance of Hayward Field,
"TrackTown, here we come."
Essar Gabriel is leading a contingent of International Association of Athletics Federations members and U.S. track officials visiting Eugene this week to review final plans for the July 22-27 competition. The championships will bring 1,600 global athletes age 19 and younger who have aspirations of being future Olympians and world champions.
It will be the event's first foray to the U.S. since the meet started in 1986. That was a running theme for the track representatives and local dignitaries, including Eugene mayor Kitty Piercy and Springfield mayor Christine Lundberg, who spoke during a news conference at Hayward Field.
"This is history in the making," Gabriel said. "TrackTown is going to meet the IAAF, and I think it is a proud moment of which we, the representatives of the IAAF, are looking forward to. One hundred and eighty nations will be competing here, in a good spirit, and taking the baton from Barcelona (site of the 2012 World Junior Championships)."
Renee Washington, CEO for USA Track & Field and a member of the entourage, said the meet is not only of concern to local organizers but to national track interests as well.
"It's extremely important," she said. "It's been quite a number of years since we've had any sort of event like this in the states. Obviously, track and field is important to us, and we know it's also important to the IAAF president (Lamine Diack) to have an event in the United States. So we're very happy that this is the first of, what we know for sure, will be two events."
That second event will be the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland. For Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA, both meets put local organizers and the entire state in the international spotlight, beginning with the junior meet.
"This summer's going to be really an exciting time," Lananna said. "Maybe, some might say, the best year ever for track and field at Hayward Field."
The meet will give local track fans a different perspective than they've had at previous big meets, such as the U.S. Olympic Trials or NCAA championships, he said.
"When we have our first final, and we have the awards ceremony, and they raise the flags of countries -- first place, second place and third place -- and they play the national anthem, I think that will (impress) on everybody how global this event is," Lananna said, "and how special the atmosphere is that we create for those young men and women."
That atmosphere, both Lananna and Gabriel said, may be Eugene's biggest selling point if TrackTown USA makes a bid for a future World Outdoors Championships.
"I think the thing that's going to best characterize this community, or characterize what the impression that this community needs to give to the IAAF in particular, will be the enthusiasm of the crowd," Lananna said. "The competition at the end of the day is king. We expect we'll create a great atmosphere for these young men and women. And we go to Portland, the same thing. And I think to energize the sport of track and field in this country, there couldn't be a better way to do it than with the world championships."
Gabriel said Eugene will need "a desire and a will and a plan" to make such a bid. That includes taking Hayward Field to "the next level," including boosting seating to 30,000 or 40,000 (up from 22,000 in attendance for the U.S. Olympic Trials) and accommodating up to 18,000 overnight athletes, media, officials and guests.
"There's a uniqueness here in the history of track and field, in this particular place called TrackTown, famous not only in the States but worldwide," Gabriel said. "But there would have to be a real plan for (a Hayward Field bid) and then presented to compete with other cities in the world who are vying for the big prize."
Another hurdle, Gabriel said, is that track generates excitement in the U.S. every four years during the Olympics. He would like to see that same excitement from Americans during the world championships, when "the same events and the same performances as the Olympics" are taking place every two years.
But, Gabriel added, if there's a place in the United States that could be a vibrant location to host a world championships, "the best place to do so is probably here, the home and the hub of track and field in this country."