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Eugene Turns Into ‘TrackTown Of The World’

Run TrackTown's celebration of running has brought thousands from around the world to Oregon.

Run TrackTown’s celebration of running has brought thousands from around the world to Oregon.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

EUGENE, OREGON — For the month of July, the city of Eugene has transformed from TrackTown USA to TrackTown of the World. Hosting the 15th edition of the IAAF World Junior Championships, the city of about 156,000 people has taken on the identity of a global festival, rallying around the sport of athletics.

In an attempt to connect further the Oregon community with its running tradition, while at the same time bringing together all levels of runners from joggers to gold medalists, the non-profit organization TrackTown USA established the “Run TrackTown” initiative.

At its core, the Run TrackTown concept is a celebration of running, a full slate of events scheduled from dusk until dawn this weekend that brings thousands of runners and residents out to Hayward Field.

“We plan to connect the dots between little kids that run, top-end competitions like the IAAF World Junior Championships, and all the various events that happen leading into the Eugene Marathon,” Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA, said in a statement. “It’s going to be fantastic.

While the IAAF World Junior Championships have been going on since Tuesday, July 22, the arrival of this weekend brings a jam-packed schedule of running-related activities for people of all ages.

Kicking off things on Saturday morning was the Run TrackTown Duck Dash, a one kilometer contest for children that finished on the famed Hayward Field homestretch. Immediately following the kids race, a 5K road race saw competitors from numerous states and nations run through the University of Oregon campus before finishing on the track.

After David Bea of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brett Ely of Eugene, Ore., won the men’s and women’s titles in 15:52 and 17:51, respectively, hundreds of competitors followed through the Hayward Field gates with smiles on their faces. Standing close to the finish, one could hear cheers in different languages, a sign of the global spirit that was present.

“Bringing in other countries, getting that in a sense here [in Eugene], it just ties a lot of things together,” said Nicole Teter-Downin, a 2008 Olympian and organizer of the Eugene Marathon. “It’s pretty awesome. We’ve got track runners out here watching 5Kers. Tomorrow you’re going to have track runners, sprinters out here watching the marathoners. When have you ever seen that? It’s very rare.”

Following today’s 5K, the Oregon Track Club hosted a youth all-comers meet for athletes ages 12 and under.

Watching the day’s festivities unfold, New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg was elated to see just how much the Eugene community has rallied around these championships, establishing a clear bond that runs through all levels of the sport.

“I just love TrackTown USA. They are tying it all together here, from the kids to the road race, obviously to the track. It’s fun to be in Eugene and see them really reveling in hosting an international competition,” said Wittenberg, accompanied by her son Alex. Tomorrow, Wittenberg will race the Eugene Half Marathon (she’s also the official starter of the marathon). “Hopefully this is another big step toward Vin’s dream of a World Championships here. Coming from New York, it’s just fun and encouraging to see just how Eugene is leading the way in tying our whole sport together.”

This afternoon, Hayward Field’s grandstands will once again be filled, as day five of the IAAF World Junior Championships will see gold medals awarded in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, 400m hurdles, and both the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays. When the competition ends just after 5:30 p.m., it will be the professionals’ turn to shine.

A number of Olympians and World Championships medalists are entered in a High Performance meeting featuring $57,000 in prize money. Headlining the meet are Aries Merritt, Christian Taylor, and Ajee’ Wilson, as well as numerous Oregon Track Club Elite members.

A Youth League Championships meet will cap off Saturday, setting the stage for Sunday’s grand finale: the Eugene Marathon and Half-Marathon, as well as the final day of the IAAF World Junior Championships.

This week’s meeting was the first IAAF global championships held in the United States since the 1992 IAAF World Cross Country Championships were in Boston. Spurred by TrackTown USA, the city of Eugene and its surrounding communities have put on a week-long spectacle showcasing just how much they love their athletics, taking advantage of the opportunity at their fingertips.

Jason Hartmann, twice the top American finisher at the Boston Marathon and a University of Oregon alum, summed it up best.

“It’s like a festival for runners almost. You have so much going on,” he told Race Results Weekly. “This really is the Mecca of distance running, so they say. And the world gets to see that. I hope this inspires people to take more of a chance on Eugene in the future as far as having meets and really cementing the championship meets here in the US. I think they’ve done a fantastic job at showcasing that.”