Today was a tough day for Eugene, Oregon.
It started with a press release from USATF this afternoon, announcing that that the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials had been awarded to Mt. SAC in Walnut, California. The release cited the Los Angeles suburb’s proximity to a major television market, its “robust options for transportation and lodging,” as well as $62 million in renovations to Mt. SAC’s Hilmer Lodge Stadium, as the key reasons for selecting Walnut over the two other options: Eugene and Sacramento.
Several hours later, the BBC reported that both the FBI and IRS are investigating the IAAF’s awarding of the 2021 Athletics World Championships to Eugene.
How are we to process all of this? What does this mean for Track Town, U.S.A.? Is Eugene okay?
First off, let’s evaluate the decision to host the 2020 Trials in an affluent, eastern LA County suburb.
Not knowing any of this was going to happen today, yesterday, I wrote about what makes a meet location good. Basically, I argued that Eugene is good at hosting major U.S. championships because it’s done it a bunch of times. People have rituals surrounding Eugene. Athletes deify racing at Hayward. Fans know of like, two bars to go to. Everyone’s happy.
Mt. SAC hosts a major meet every year and also has a storied history of world records and stuff. (Plus, Walnut, CA’s Wikipedia page has a subsection dedicated solely to the Mt. SAC Relays. That bodes well.) So we can assume there are a handful local strip malls that will rise to the occasion of nourishing and liquoring up visiting track fans come 2020.
Getting to Walnut is pretty easy. Flights in and out of LAX are cheap and plentiful, but you’ll have to rent a car–which isn’t that different from Eugene.
The weather is generally nice, although it would be nicer if the meet were held in say, Santa Monica.
But what about those world famous Eugene track people?
The biggest bone I could see people picking with Mt. SAC–aside from poor walkability–is that “Eugene has the best track fans in America!” That may be true, but Eugene is a town of about 150,000. Of those 150,000 residents, how many of them truly give a shit about track? Maybe a couple thousand? You’re trying to tell me greater-Los Angeles–a sprawling megalopolis of almost 20 million people doesn’t contain as many track fans as Eugene?
C’mon. The same people who flew into Eugene to watch the 2016 Trials will fly into LA to watch the 2020 iteration. And the remaining seats will be filled with locals driving in. The Mt. SAC Invite is regarded as the largest cross country meet in the world. If the Trials can’t lure in a fraction of the high school athletes who run that meet every year, then track’s got bigger fish to fry than where to hold its once-every-four-years-main-event.
Mt. SAC will do great. At meets it hosts between now and 2020, fans will begin carving out their niche in terms of establishments to patronize. And for the majority of America, visiting LA is more convenient and conventionally enjoyable than visiting Eugene, strip malls and all. Plus, every Olympics, isn’t there like, a running tally of how many medals are earned just by Americans from southern California? That fact alone means an influx of athletes’ family and friends in attendance which is awesome.
Now that we’ve stripped away the shiny veneer of Eugene as the only track town, what does this investigation mean?
Honestly, I don’t think anything will come of this investigation. Stuff rarely comes from investigations. The next major meet Eugene hosts won’t be tainted by this minor scandal, as the only people who really care about it are the citizens of Gothenburg, Sweden and maybe a handful of American, anti-Nike, anti-corruption advocates.
But the reality is, track fans will go wherever there is track and forget about the murky past. Just like how track fans as a whole cheer just as loudly for athletes with doping-ban-marred gaps in their competitive past as for those whose piss has been crystal clear since day one.
Like a god damn phoenix, Eugene will rise from the apparent ashes and continue to somewhat accurately bill itself as Track Town, U.S.A.