Stage set at historic Hayward Field for potentially best-ever World Athletics Championships

Irish medal hopes among the properly global sporting event are slim, if at all

Between 1851 and 1855, the United States government stole the land belonging to the Kalapuya tribe of Native Americans and forcibly removed them to the Coast Reservation in western Oregon.

In 1872, an 18-acre parcel of that same land was sold for $2,500 as the site for a new university of Oregon, which opened in the town of Eugene in 1876 with an initial enrolment of 155 students taught by five faculty members.

In 1919, a nearby cow pasture was chosen as the site to build a new football stadium, named after Bill Hayward, the father of Oregon track and field, coaching there from 1904 to 1947 and also training the university football team.

First hosting the NCAA Championships in 1962, after a series of improvements over the years it became an athletics-only stadium in 1970, hosting the 1972 US Olympics where Oregon’s most famous ever student-athlete Steve Prefontaine won the 5,000m, before finishing fourth in Munich.


Global sporting event

In 2018, after Oregon successfully bid for the 2022 World Athletics Championships, it underwent a complete rebuild costing around $270 million, most of which came from the pocket of Phil Knight, a former Oregon distance runner and Nike co-founder of Shoe Dog fame.

After a year’s postponement, beginning Friday morning local time (eight hours behind us) this venue in the still small town in the Pacific northwest will host the 10 days of the 18th edition of the championships, the first to be staged in the United States, though not in north America; Edmonton in Canada hosted the 2001 championships.

If it feels a somewhat strange part of the country to be hosting arguably the largest global sporting event this year — 192 countries represented, 1,972 athletes in all, a TV audience of over one billion etc — fear not the obvious: Eugene is popularly known as Track Town USA, already hosting more US Olympic Trials and NCAA Championships than any other venue.

The impressive rebuild includes a temporary seated section which brings the capacity to just over 22,000, and all 10 of the evening sessions are reportedly close to sold out. The time difference is not ideal from an Irish viewing perspective, still there is a sense these championships are not to be missed — potentially the best ever.

Of the 43 individual winners from the last championship in 2019 in Doha, Qatar, 37 will defend their titles in Oregon. Also, 42 individual gold medallists from last year’s Olympics in Tokyo will be in action, including Karsten Warholm in the 400m hurdles and fellow Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1,500m, Italy’s 100m champion Marcell Jacobs, Jamaica’s double Olympic 100m and 200m champion Elaine Thompson-Herah, Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis, who continues to pole vault higher than any man in history, and the American Sydney McLaughlin, who has already improved her 400m hurdles world record this summer.

Friday’s first evening session — early Saturday Irish-time — includes the final of the mixed 4x400m relay, the last championship appearance of US sprint great Allyson Felix, who is retiring after this season. Felix ran on the world-record-setting team when the 4x400m mixed relay made its debut at the 2019 Championships in Doha, and has won 13 gold, three silver and two bronze World Championship medals, the most of any athlete in history.

It’s the speed merchants who are the headline acts during the evening sessions on Saturday and Sunday, the final of the men’s 100m on Saturday, the women’s 100m on Sunday. The Saturday men’s final could feature four Americans, led by Christian Coleman, the defending champion from Doha, and Fred Kerley, who set the Hayward Field stadium record with a world-leading time of 9.76 seconds last month.

There is some uncertainty though around the race that had it all in Tokyo last summer, the men’s 400m hurdles, given Warholm, who ran that utterly blistering world record of 45.94, hasn’t finished a race yet this summer, pulling up injured in his Diamond League debut in Rabat in June.

“Looking forward to competing at Hayward Field again, I’m excited to see and run at the new stadium,” Warholm says, confirming he is fit to run, and he’ll need to be: the American Rai Benjamin and the 22-year-old Brazilian Alison dos Santos are gunning for that gold medal too.

Sadly, the medal hopes among the Irish team are slim, if at all, the chance instead of a potential finalist, beginning with that mixed 4x400m relay on Friday evening, the Irish quartet which made the final in Tokyo last year significantly boosted by the presence this time of one Rhasidat Adeleke.

  • BBC are covering all morning and evening sessions, beginning on Friday at 6pm on BBC2, later from 1am on BBC1, through to 4.30am.
Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics