World Track Championships wrap up with more golds for USA, praise for host city Eugene
The first World Outdoor Track and Field Championships held on American soil sprinted to a joyful conclusion Sunday night in Eugene with back-to-back U.S. victories in the 4x400 relays. The full stadium was also treated to a new world record in the women’s 100-meter hurdles by Nigeria's Tobi Asuman and a new world record in men's pole vault by Sweden's Mondo Duplantis. The twin relay gold medals padded a commanding U.S. lead in the final medal standings — 33 medals total, of which 13 were gold. Ethiopia captured 10 total medals (4 gold) as did Jamaica (10 total, 2 gold) for second and third place overall.
The final weekend of action on the track also brightened the bottom line for Pacific Northwest runners, jumpers and throwers. More than 30 athletes who are from the Northwest or who were collegiate standouts here secured berths in these World Champs.
On Saturday, a University of Oregon redshirt senior and an alum won silver and gold in the same event, the women’s 4x100 relay. Oregon Ducks sprinter Kemba Nelson competed for Team Jamaica, which came in second behind Team USA. Oregon alum Jenna Prandini ran a strong third leg for Team USA, helping the national team win one of their 13 gold medals.
"It's really special," Prandini told GoDucks.com. "Not only is it U.S. soil, it's Hayward Field — and Hayward Field is home for me. I love coming back for any race, but to be able to have the World Championships, the biggest race of the whole year, it's definitely really special."
"The 'Hayward Magic' was real tonight."
During the first weekend of the ten day competition, Oregon native Ryan Crouser led a Team USA sweep of the men’s shot put, to the absolute delight of the home crowd. For Crouser, the World Championships gold medal completed a trophy collection that already contained the current world record and back-to-back Olympic golds.
"The crowd was loud. They were into it and cheering every single throw, not just for myself," Crouser said. "It was the best shot putting atmosphere I’ve ever seen."
The big meet provided a storybook ending to veteran javelin thrower Kara Winger's career. The Vancouver, Washington, native and American record holder competed at the past four Summer Olympics and five prior world championships, but never reached the podium at that level until Friday night. The 36-year-old hurled the javelin 64.05 meters on her last turn in her final major meet before retirement to win the World Championships silver medal.
“Doing this at home is everything I imagined it would be,” an elated Winger said trackside. “I really had the support of the crowd to get that throw off and grab silver.”
Seattle-born, former Oregon Ducks track and football star Devon Allen provided another intriguing storyline during these World Championships, although his homecoming to Hayward Field ended in heartbreak. Allen’s medal hopes in the 110-meter high hurdles abruptly faltered on July 17 when track officials disqualified him for a false start based on an electronic pressure sensor reading from the starting blocks. To the naked eye, there was no perceptible motion before the starting gun fired. Allen protested to no avail, and his fellow competitors also deemed the disqualification questionable.
“When I was flagged, I was very surprised,” Allen told reporters afterwards. “I know for a fact that I didn’t react until I heard the gun. To be one-one thousandth (or a second) too quick – I know I’m quick, but it kind of sucks.”
Allen won’t need to dwell on the shocking disqualification for long. Later this week, he is slated to switch to NFL football preseason training. The 27-year-old, two-time Olympian recently signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is going to try the rare feat of sustaining overlapping careers in pro running and pro football.
The world meet was a bit of a disappointment for the quartet of Eugene, Portland and Seattle-based professional training groups for distance runners sponsored by Nike and Brooks Running. Most of the distance races from 800 meters on up had at least one entrant – and as many as four – from the Pacific Northwest region, but none reached the podium. Bowerman Track Club runner Grant Fisher made the strongest impression with a gutsy run in the 10,000 meters, finishing in the dreaded fourth place, just a fraction of a second out of bronze medal position.
How did it go for the host city?
Eugene was by far the smallest city to ever host the World Athletics Championships. The biennial meet took its current format in 1983, and is normally hosted in a major metropolis such as London, Beijing or Tokyo. The event is the biggest deal in track and field outside of the Olympics.
The choice of Eugene-Springfield to host the big meet in the U.S. for the first time caused hand-wringing in advance, not the least because of the limited hotel capacity, small airport, scarce stadium parking, high ticket prices and a perceived shortage in sophisticated dining and nightlife.
The organizers ended up having an extra year to prepare. When the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were pushed back by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, these World Championships were also delayed from the originally planned 2021 date to this year.
Oregon22 local organizing committee board member Renee Washington said Sunday she was pleasantly surprised by the positive reviews she heard from international visitors and foreign teams. The Hayward Field stands were nearly full every evening session. World Athletics said nearly 150,000 tickets were sold over the course of the event.
The logistics of hosting around 1,700 athletes from 179 countries and legions of support personnel ran smoothly by most accounts. Traffic and parking were unproblematic and the weather cooperated by staying mostly sunny but not scorching hot.
The reported snafus were mostly out of the control of the local organizing committee. Rising COVID-19 infections in the U.S. intruded and forced three athletes to withdraw before their races, including both the men’s and women’s Japanese national record holders in the marathon.
Before that, an unspecified number of foreign athletes, team officials and overseas reporters had their travel plans to come to Oregon foiled by delays in obtaining U.S. entry visas. Four other athletes representing Botswana, the United States and Kenya were excluded at the last minute by the Athletics Integrity Unit for alleged doping violations or missed drug tests.
After the final relay race Sunday, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe presided over a short ceremony in which the U.S. hosts handed over a ceremonial baton to Budapest, which will host the 2023 World Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
This story has been updated.