USATF Champs — Chasing Berths On Team USA

Hayward Field once again proved to be a fine venue for championship track, and the athletes took advantage of it, even if crowds were disappointingly thin. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

EUGENE, OREGON, June 23-26 — The athletes showed up. Their contests stirred the blood of all who came to watch.

Their heroics thrilled, befitting a meet that would select Team USA for the first-ever outdoor World Championships on U.S. soil — to be held here at Hayward Field.

On Day 2 shot putter Ryan Crouser led the charge as he had in the first final of the Olympic Trials last year when he set the World Record. This time reigning world champ Joe Kovacs lit the fuse with 75-½ (22.87) bombs in rounds 1 and 2. Only when he won in Doha 3 years ago has the 33-year-old Kovacs spun the ball longer.

That’ll wake up even the rock-steady marvel that is Crouser. In rounds 3–6, he launched massive 75-footers. The Oregon native averaged 75-2½ (22.92) and left the name of ’80s East German Ulf Timmermann as the only other putter with a mark in the all-time top 10.

Besides Crouser, only Timmermann has had even one throw longer than that average.

On Day 3 Sydney McLaughlin exceeded Crouser. Appearing to negate any slowing effect hurdles may have on negotiating 400m of track, she cleaved 0.05 from her monumental Tokyo World Record to cross in 51.41.

As 14 of last summer’s Olympic Trials champions defended their titles, 17 T&FN formchart favorites lived up to their billing. The repeat champions list was a group full of Worlds promise: Noah Lyles m200, Michael Norman m400, Hillary Bor mSteeple, Rai Benjamin m400H, Chris Nilsen mPV, Crouser,
Athing Mu 800, Emma Coburn wSteeple, Elise Cranny w5000, Keni Harrison w100H, McLaughlin, Vashti Cunningham wHJ, Keturah Orji wTJ & Valarie Allman wDT.

Four meet records went down. Norman sped 43.56 pushed by newcomer Champion Allison. Grant Fisher throttled any would-be kickers in the 5000 with 13:03.86 in temperatures above 80. McLaughlin… well any WR is also an MR. And Orji triple jumped 48-6¼ (14.79), exceeded on her résumé only by her 48-11 (14.91) AR set last year.

The overseas competition headed to Eugene in mid-July surely noticed world leading marks put up: a 9.83 heat from 100 champ Fred Kerley before his 9.76 semi (and 9.77 final); Norman’s lap, his training mate Benjamin’s 47.04; Crouser, natch; NCAA star Abby Steiner’s 21.77 win at 200 after a 21.80 semi; and Chase Ealey’s shot best, 67-3½ (20.51), a PR and history’s longest by a woman spinner. In winning her first title since 2019, Sandi Morris scaled 15-9¾ (4.82) for the vault’s outdoor world lead.

‘Twere a show to remember…

… If you saw it. As noted, the athletes showed up. Fans? Not so many. Depressingly few, to be blunt. How few? Days of 2751, 3314, 3664 & 3577 for a total of 13,306.

Not that that’s any fan’s fault. Here it’s worth reviewing what once was, and what was once imagined for this USATF Champs.

June ’15 is the time to revisit. First page 35 of that month’s T&FN, reporting that Eugene had, in a surprise move, secured hosting rights for what was (pre-pandemic) to be the ’21 Worlds.

Our report included the assessment of USATF CEO Max Siegel; you might call it a pledge: “Team USA has established itself as the most successful track & field team in the world. We now have the opportunity and duty to rise to the same level as hosts of these championships.”

Vin Lananna, then the director of Eugene’s TrackTown USA promotional group, now USATF’s President, declared, “We believe we can ignite a spark that will leave a lasting legacy for track & field for generations to come.”

The upcoming World Champs is likely, still, to be a success. But where was the spark 3 weeks beforehand?

Looking longer through that ’15 lens, Eugene hosted a firecracker of a Nationals that month. The weather was sunny and hot, Coburn won the fourth of her now 10 steeple titles. Kara Winger, whose title this year was her ninth, claimed crown No. 4.

And fans? Over 4 days, 38,795 rolled up to watch, 10,746 on the last day, 8792 for the Thursday first day.

This year’s figures: Barely a third of that, 13,306 in all, 3664 on day 3 on hand for McLaughlin’s World Record. The TrackTown faithful cheered full throat. Still, that’s not many throats.

Let’s accept until shown otherwise that U.S. track’s organizers — a Balkanized, turf-protecting group, that hasn’t changed in 6 years — oversaturated the market with this spring’s boffo Eugene meet slate, Pac-12s, Pre Meet, NCAA, USA’s/World Trials, Worlds.

Maybe — as fans have complained — ticket prices, accommodations and air travel to Eugene were too much lead for this balloon to lift so often in a span of 3 months.

Let’s be blunt once again. Does it look like USATF and its partners really aimed for the same level as the athletes when it couldn’t be bothered to officially announce Eugene as this year’s Champs site until 6 months ahead (January 25, a detailed schedule followed weeks later)?

Is that an approach on which any lasting legacy is built?

The athletes whose performances animated the ’21 USATF Champs meet deserved much better. They didn’t get it.

Following are our by-event stories for each of the Eugene events, written in real time, not reflecting later developments.

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