EUGENE — Because of the demise of Historic Hayward Field and the raising of a new state-of-the-art track facility at the University of the Oregon, the Prefontaine Classic — stop seven of 14 in the Diamond League series of track meets — was moved to Cobb Track and Angell Field on the campus of Stanford University.
From the media updates I was getting, it was obvious that the best athletes in their respective events were going to compete. My question was, will fans show up. Answer, yes.
The facility is much smaller than Hayward, so temporary seating was brought in. Not enough. All seats and standing room were sold out with 8,128 in attendance.
As I hovered near the will call window I saw many a disappointed fan turned away. No doubt in my mind a good 9,000-plus people would have attended given the opportunity.
While I was waiting for the meet to start I conversed with a few fans wearing “Go Pre,” “Stop Pre,” or “2016 (or earlier) Olympic Trials, Eugene” T-shirts to gage their anticipation for the Pre in this different venue.
While each one was looking forward to the competition’s return to Eugene, they knew in their bones the athletes would perform to the highest standards.
What about novice attendees? What would their take be on this high caliber meet?
I caught up with sisters Chloe and Caitlin along with their father Conrad. They were certainly excited to watch and learn yet were most impressed with the T-shirts they picked up for being in a USA Track and Field promotional video.
When it came to watching the meet, with dad’s encouragement, the two girls kept a keen eye on the multitude of events going on at the same time. I wasn’t sure if they fully grasped the quality of what was happening in front of them, but they assured me the entertainment was worth the price of admission.
Athlete of the Meet was Darian Romani of Brazil, who had all six shot put attempts over 70 feet with a winning effort of 74 feet, 2 ¼ inches, setting a field and Brazilian National Record.
Previous to Romani’s win, the women were in the ring with Lijiao Gong of China setting the stage with a field record. She took control of the competition in the second round at 63-10¼ and wrapped it up in the fifth with a 64-11 ¼ put.
World leading times were posted in the 100 meters by Christian Colman as he sped 9.81 seconds. Going longer and topping the best so far this year was Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya with a 3:50.49 mile. Running twice that distance, Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei came home in 8:07.54 for the eight laps of the two mile.
Meet records were established by USA’s Rai Benjamin (47.16 in the 400 hurdles), two-time world indoor and outdoor gold medalist Marlya Lasitskene of Russia cleared 6-8 ½ in the high jump, Kenyan Beatrice Chepkiech dusted the field by nine seconds in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (8:55.58), and in the women’s 800, South African Caster Semenya completed the two-lap race in 1:55.70.
The future of America’s speed is strong. In the high school boys 100 the eight competitors flew down the track with the winner crossing in 10:41 and eighth place finishing in 10:68. The girls had a bit more space between them, going 11:43 to 11:75.
No question Track Town USA will be happy to have the Pre Classic back in Eugene next year, and yet I am sure a few more people in the Bay Area were converted to track fans and may well work their way north for the 2020 edition of the meet.
Pop Conrad assured me he would be bringing daughter Chloe and Caitlin up for the meet.