U.S. Fans (© Tom Boyd / WCH Oregon22)
The first World Athletics Championships on U.S. soil was a unique opportunity to participate and partake in an event that was so far away for so many years for so many people.
Not only was the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, which ran from July 15-24 at the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon a unique experience for athletes, it was also the first time many fans saw the new Hayward Field.
“We had to come,” said Miguel Gonzalez of Bend, Ore., who came with his family to the final day of competition. “We’re faithful citizens of TrackTown, so we come to a lot of the meets they have here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be here, first time this meet is on U.S. soil, so it’s something that we had to do.”
“Prior to COVID, we would come to pretty much all the meets. Pre Classic, the other small meets there. Any opportunity that we could come to be here, we were always here. Just to be able to see what (Hayward Field) was before and obviously the finished product, it’s unbelievable, really. It looks phenomenal.”
That was the sentiment shared by other fans as well.
Andy Chan of San Francisco attended all 10 days of WCH Oregon22 with his wife. He had been to the old Hayward Field many times, but this was his first time seeing the new stadium.
“It feels like a stadium now," Chan said. “It’s cool. Someone said it to me well. Old Hayward is old Hayward, and you have your memories in there and it’s a separate place. This is just a new place with new memories.”
There were certainly plenty of memories taken from the first World Athletics Championships to come to the United States after 17 editions had been in places like Daegu, South Korea, Doha, Qatar, and Edmonton, Alberta, not to mention some of the world’s biggest metropolises like Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Rome, London, and Beijing.
“It’s been all over the world except in the United States, the greatest nation ever created,” said Wayne Lee of Grants Pass, Ore.
Lee has seen lots of track and field in his day. The 87-year-old grew up in Tulare, California, and was best friends with the younger brother of Bob Mathias, who won the Olympic decathlon as a high schooler in 1948 and repeated as Olympic champion in 1952. Lee “used to be a real decathlon fan,” and loves track and field so much that he would annually drive from Grants Pass to Eugene to watch the state high school meets.
WCH Oregon22 was his first time at the reimagined Hayward Field. Lee said some of his favorite athletes to follow now are Michael Norman, Noah Lyles, Sydney McLaughlin, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. All four athletes won gold medals in their signature events at WCH Oregon22, all four of them added a relay medal, and Fraser-Pryce also took silver in the women’s 200m.
“I’m a big fan of the relays,” said Lee, whose daughter, Shawneen, lives in Salem. Shawneen Lee got tickets to the July 23 evening session through her employer and chose to take her father to the meet with her instead of her boyfriend.
“My one thought is letting folks know there’s more than one (merchandising) tent further down,” Agate Street, Shawneen Lee said. “Because I notice everyone is clustering there (at the first merchandise tent through the security gate) and there’s no one at the other tent. Everything else is great. I think it’s so fun to watch, track and field.”
Chan has seen more than his fair share of outstanding track and field. He first attended the World Athletics Championships in 2009 in Berlin, went to the 2011 Championships in Daegu, South Korea, was on hand for the 2013 and 2015 Championships in Moscow and Beijing, respectively, and last attended the World Athletics Championships in London in 2017. He also went to the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympics.
“My favorite thing is all the spectators here, and their track and field knowledge,” Chan said. “People from different countries are very knowledgeable, understanding what’s going on in the javelin, understand very nuanced things you don’t typically get at a USA Track and Field meet.”
Chan said he’s learned a lot about track and field, and particularly its fanbase, having attended so many major championships.
“Seeing how it’s done there, seeing the spectators there, the local’s view, how they really understand the sport," he said. “It’s very popular in Europe, and the U.S. has a ways to go to bridge that gap. It’s going to take meets like this, and I think it’s also going to take having more meets like besides in Eugene.”
Michael Owens and Karen Owens Drake of St. Louis were making their second trip to Hayward Field in the past two months, along with plenty of other family members, to cheer on their favorite decathlete, Ayden Owens-Delarme, who competes for Puerto Rico.
Michael Owens is Owens-Delarme's father, and Karen Owens Drake is Owens-Delarme's aunt. They were at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Austin, Texas, and the NCAA Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Ala., in March, when Owens-Delarme rallied in the final event to win the heptathlon. They were also at Hayward Field in June with Owens-Delarme, who competes collegiately at Arkansas after beginning his career at Michigan, tied Ashton Eaton’s decathlon point total meet record at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
“It’s a beautiful facility and the people in town have just been so welcoming and lovely," Owens said. “We don’t feel like we’re burdening anybody. It seems like they go out of their way to make us feel welcome. That was the same last month, too. I’m so happy to be back. This is the best venue we’ve ever been to.”
The Owens-Delarme family supporters’ first day at WCH Oregon22 was July 22 when they and thousands of others saw the show-stopping performance of the event when McLaughlin obliterated her world record in the 400m hurdles.
“The energy feels so different, and the environment feels different.” Owens Drake said. “There’s more energy here in a different way than last month for NCAAs. Everyone supports the athlete on the field or on the track, and that was really universal.”
Owens-Delarme turned 22 about six weeks before WCH Oregon22 began. He’s one of three finalists for the Bowerman Award, which is annually given to the top men’s and women’s collegiate track and field athletes in the country. At WCH Oregon22, he ended the first day of the decathlon in first place and finished the competition fourth while resetting the Puerto Rico national record to 8,532 points. He also concluded the opening day with a bang, running 45.07 seconds in the 400m, which was also a national record for Puerto Rico and the fastest decathlon 400m in World Athletics Championships history.
“We would love to see a full stadium for the multis because they work so hard and we also recognize that everybody doesn’t come out for multi events,” Owens Drake said, “but we are there loud and proud for sure.”
Chan said his one minor complaint of WCH Oregon22 centered on how decathlon pole vault standings were displayed. With two groups going at once, only the results of one group were shown on the scoreboard until everyone in that group finished.
But aside from that, Chan said his experience was a positive one, particularly when it came to the friendliness of people who worked at the event.
“The TDK and ASICS (booths) were great,” he said. “I visited them every day just to say hi, they were friendly people and just, ‘hey what did you think about last night’ type of things. It’s great to have people like that that know the sport just engaging with you every day, just part of the experience.”
Wayne Lee, who worked in marketing before he retired, agreed with Chan.
“I’ve been impressed with the courtesy, all of the restrictions that go into this, but all of the ones that are policing everything,” Lee said, “if you will, are very courteous. I’m very impressed.”
Chan said he and his wife stayed in south Eugene and took advantage of the free bike valets every day.
“I rode an ElliptiGO with my wife every day,” Chan said. “It was super easy. It was a four-mile ride, 20 minutes a day. Appreciated the bike valet for sure.”
Gonzalez said he and his family read up on what was and wasn’t accepted inside Hayward Field, making for easy access into the stadium.
“I feel there’s a good process,” he said. “We didn’t come with any bags, so it was pretty easy for us. Obviously, they’ve got people everywhere. They’re definitely doing a good job of trying to keep the spectators in the areas they should be in, and the athletes and teams in their areas and not having any kind of issues. At least from what I can see anyway."
One athlete Gonzalez was looking forward to seeing was Athing Mu, the Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 800m. Mu didn’t disappoint, winning a tight battle with Olympic silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain to become the first U.S. woman to win the 800m at an outdoor World Athletics Championships.
“That event right now, obviously it's got a lot of talent right there,” Gonzalez said. “With Athing Mu where’s she at, I feel like anytime she lines up on the track, especially at this stage, is a potential record of some type. Another thing (to watch) would be the 4x4s of course.”
Humphrey, who declined to give his last name, traveled from Uganda to “support my country.”
“The weather is perfect, people are nice, it’s awesome,” he said. “Just the experience of athletics competition is awesome. I love it. Different countries, celebrating each other, I love it.”
By Ashley Conklin