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May 16, 2017

The case for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials host cities

USATF has announced that Eugene, Oregon; Sacramento, California; and Walnut, California are finalists to host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Eugene not only hosted last summer’s Olympic Trials, but the 2012 and 2008 ones as well. Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium, which will host this summer’s U.S. Championships, previously hosted the trials in 2000 and 2004.

The wildcard here is Hilmer Lodge Stadium in Walnut, California. The stadium is best known for hosting the Mt. SAC Relays and is currently undergoing renovations. It previously hosted the 1968 Olympic Trials for women.

The decision will be made in July.

Here’s some thoughts on each of the cities:

On Sacramento

Out of the three cities that have been announced as an option, Sacramento is arguably the most accessible. I know what you’re thinking, yes, Mt. SAC is in the greater Los Angeles area, but who wants to fly into and drive around L.A. with their traffic. No one. You can land at Sacramento International Airport, rent a car or order an Uber and then get downtown or to the track within 20 minutes. If you want cheaper prices, fly into SFO and drive 90 minutes, it’s really easy and not a prop plane into Eugene.

For the fans and for the athletes who are in town, there’s a great place to train near the track or right from downtown. The American River Parkway is said to be one of the longest continuous paved bike paths in the country and I’d believe it. I’ve put close to 1,000 miles on it this year so far. It’s 32 miles long, marked every 1/2 mile and has bathrooms very often along the way. You can access it from Sacramento State, and it has dirt sections on the side to stay soft as well.

Daily highs average 93°F in July, and often reaches triple digits. But, hey, unlike Eugene you won’t have to worry about packing a rain jacket. Perfect for the farmers tan and sock tan enthusiasts.

Sacramento has strong craft beer and coffee scenes and great culinary options centered around a “farm-to-fork” manta with fresh local products grown in the nearby Central Valley. Given the city isn’t all that physically large, all these are fairly near the track at Sac State.

This is the third city that I have lived in so far in California, and it’s the most real. People here are pretty blue collar, and down to earth. So if you’re out in one of Sacramento’s many restaurants or getting drunk on the Sac Brew Bike, you’ll be sure to find a friendly person.

However…

There’s not a ton to do as a fan by the track. Once you walk away from the stadium depending where you walked from or are parked, you’re stuck on a college campus or are walking through some not so nice neighborhoods. Although in one not so nice neighborhood, there is a solid drive-thru taco shop and the HQ for Girl Scout Cookies. It would be dope if there was a nearby street lined with restaurants or bars.

The Sacramento State track doesn’t have the historic vibe and big feel that Hayward Field does. It’s cool that Hayward Field has the large over hangs, it makes you feel like you’re in a large sporting venue and not a B-level track.

– Justin Britton

On Walnut

As a Sacramento resident, it’s a bit of heresy that I’m advocating for another city. But I’m sort of a California nationalist, so I don’t feel too bad laying out the case for another California locale — Mt. SAC.

Its location in the L.A. metro area is a big plus with three major airports within 40 miles of the track. Being in a massive population center also has the potential to draw large crowds to the stadium if promotional efforts are done correctly.

The area around the track, however, is lackluster at best. The track is surrounded by stereotypical Southern California suburbia — great for raising your kids but not great for a track fan experience. Unlike the walkability of Eugene, you’ll definitely need to rent a car to get around. There aren’t a ton of hotels nearby, and the dining scene is mostly comprised of chain restaurants.

A potential x-factor is the renovation of the Mt. SAC track currently in progress. The college is spending $62 million to completely rebuild the stadium, including bleachers to fit 11,000 fans and (what only us track media nerds care about) a “digitally-wired press box that can accommodate the global media.” If the restoration results in a really top-end facility for athletes, coaches and fans alike, it could be a real game changer in the race for the 2020 Trials.

– Kevin Liao

On Eugene

We saved this one last because it’s the most familiar to track fanatics. It’s Track Town, USA and last summer, it took on the title as the home of “The Hardest Team to Make.” It’s more of a “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it approach” to Eugene. The city’s been through this enough times that it’s pretty much tradition.

Last summer’s Olympic Trials went smoothly except for a few days of rain, but that’s Oregon for you. Eugene is inexpensive. Everything is within walking distance. The Wild Duck brings its own special sense of community after the action is over at the track.

In recent weeks, there have been some reports of delays on the renovations at Hayward Field due to design complications. Ken Goe points out that the renovations were supposed to be about halfway done by now but they haven’t really started. There’s already been some NCAA Championships set for the coming years at Hayward Field that could be affected. The 2021 IAAF World Championships remain the target.

When those NCAA Championships were announced, it was met with some mixed reviews. There’s always going to be a pro-Eugene crowd. Then there’s those who are ready for a change of scenery. This tweet by David Verberg stood out.

The Eugene exhaustion is real. Eugene has done very well at hosting but a change of scenery for the Trials wouldn’t be the worst thing either.

– Chris Chavez

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