Back on track – Eugene Weekly

As I went up about 20 rows to get to my seat, I started worrying that I was wasting a lot of money on bad seats. I sit down in my place and look around. In fact, those nosebleed seats could actually be the best place in the house with a view of Eugene’s hills and tree lines.

My bird’s eye view ended up being the perfect place to see the return of the Prefontaine Classic which will be canceled on 20th 2020 due to COVID-19.

The Prefontaine Classic 2021 was quite a homecoming. Over two days, the athletes broke multiple records and it looked like they were having fun.


Hayward Field at night

Photo by Todd Cooper

The Prefontaine Classic is the second major athletics event to be held at the newly built Hayward Field, a $ 270 million venue paid for by Nike’s Phil Knight. And over the two days, the event made sure that you don’t forget who paid for the location.

On the first night, between endurance races, former athletics Olympians and athletes – including those who participated in Tokyo 2020 – were featured wearing bright green and yellow “Thank You Phil” T-shirts. To me, some athletes looked uncomfortable wearing the shirts, expressing the feeling that Knight is saving the sport of athletics.



Ashton Eaton

Photo by Todd Cooper

But after two days at Hayward Field, it’s hard to feel cynical about the facility. Its futuristic energy emerges at night. Although the Friday night events started late in the evening at 9 p.m., the lights shone brightly on the athletics grounds. And with the soft British accent from announcer Katharine Merry and the deep, rumbling bass and drums from the songs played during the events, Hayward felt like he could get into them war of stars Galaxy, especially with the silver all-round roof that isolates the field from traffic.

The new Hayward offers runners a leap into world records. During the races, a light runs along the route and informs the runners of the world record speed for this event. And maybe that fueled some of the records during the Prefontaine Classic. At the end of the meeting, the athletes broke nine Prefontaine Classic records, eight Hayward Field records, two American records, and set new records for the elite athletics Diamond League.

The Prefontaine Classic wasn’t sold out – there were plenty of vacancies throughout the venue, not a bad thing considering the surge in COVID cases and the lack of vaccinations and masks required – but the fans in the audience were lively for the events, in particular for Sha’Carri Richardson, who ran the 100m. Richardson stunned the track and field world with her performance in the US Olympic trials, which quickly sparked a conversation about whether athletes can use weed products after failing a drug test.

As Richardson lined up, the crowd cheered her on, a sign that she really has become a household name in athletics. But when the starting shot was fired, Richardson fell back to last place. Elaine Thompson-Herah (Jamaica) won a meet record with 10.54 seconds and was only 0.05 seconds away from the world record.



Elaine Thompson-Herah was the first to finish the 100-meter run.

Photo by Todd Cooper

After the 100 m performance by Richardson, she withdrew from the 200 m race. But in a post-race interview, she told reporters, “This is a race. I’m not ready. You know what I’m capable of. Count me out if you want, ”she said. “Congratulations to the winners, but they’re not done with me yet. Period.”

Another crowd-pleaser was Ryan Crouser from Boring, Oregon. He won the shot put with ease and continued his trend of dominating the event in 2021, which began when he broke the world record in the US trials and then won the gold medal in Tokyo.



Ryan Crouser throws the shot put.

Photo by Todd Cooper

The Prefontaine Classic is Crouser’s second participation in the new Hayward and on August 21st he broke more than records. At the end of the Prefontaine Classic, he told announcer Merry on the field that he had broken some of the concrete from the shot put pit.

While the University of Oregon is likely to continue to support its soccer program overwhelmingly, the Prefontaine Classic is a reminder that athletics can be fun. Sure, some athletes had brave performances and breaking records, but others had fun, like Craig Engels (US) who decided to celebrate a little earlier by waving to the audience on the home stretch of the 1-mile event on August 20th . Geordie Beamish (Australia) accelerated and passed Engels and won the event.


PreClassic 9470 scaled

Geordie Beamish was the first to steal at the men’s mile event on August 20th

Photo by Todd Cooper

In the post-run interview on the field, Merry Beamish asked about Engels’ early celebration. “I wouldn’t let him get away with that,” Beamish laughed.

Towards the end of the Prefontaine Classic, all I could think of was the 2022 Eugene Marathon, which will end in Hayward Field. Butterflies in my stomach as I imagined finishing the new Hayward Field course – but after the marathon you won’t see me in a thank you Phil shirt.



Marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge after his presentation on August 21st

Photo by Todd Cooper

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