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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cathedrals of the Sport

Recently my brother inspired me to write up a rundown on the great track stadiums in America. Here are the results of an afternoon's work.

The Greatest: Franklin Field
Who runs there: Penn Quakers, and every college and high school athlete in the northeast.
Opened: 1895 (permanent strutcure in 1915). Seating: 52,593.
There is no track I want to run on more than this one. It is old and brick and big and gorgeous and loud. Its main attraction, the Penn Relays, might be the greatest track meet in the world. It’s quirky; to fit a modern track into the existing structure, lane five is 400 meters, requiring runners in the inside four lanes to cut out in multi-lap races. For this reason, it will never again host a major non-collegiate event, as it regularly did up through 1980. Still, there is no better place than Franklin Field on the fourth Saturday in April.
See also: Drake (Iowa) Stadium (1925 / 14,557), the host of the other greatest track meet in America

The Behemoth: Husky Stadium
Who runs there: Washington Huskies (and, for 21 games, the Seattle Seahawks).
Opened: 1920. Seating: 70,000.
The host of the 1990 Goodwill Games is the largest stadium in the USA with a track in it. The views aren’t bad, either. It doesn’t get anywhere near the use it should, generally hosting just an annual invitational, a biennial dual meet, and the Pac-10 once each decade.

Best PR Firm: Hayward Field
Who runs there: Oregon Ducks, plus anyone Nike wants.
Opened: 1919. Seating: 21,000.
It’s the epicenter of track & field in the USA these days, and deservedly so. A beautiful old wood stadium—anything but pine would be sacrilege in Oregon—its grandstands look like something you’d see in an English football league. They host so many meets that “seating rights” and “season tickets” are part of the lexicon. It had fallen on hard times by the early 70s, with one side closed down, but Bill Bowerman put together a “Hayward Field Restoration Meet” to raise money for repairs. That meet is now known as the Prefontaine Classic. These days, no one needs to raise money; its patron has more money than God.
See also: Earl Klapstein Stadium (Mt. Hood Community College), the home track of adidas' North America operations.

The Forgotten One: Edwards Stadium
Who runs there: Cal Bears.
Opened: 1932. Seating: 22,000.
When opened, it was the first track-only stadium in the world. It’s hosted eight NCAA championships, two USA-USSR duals, and 14 world records have been set there. One end of the stadium looks out on the Berkeley Hills and Strawberry Canyon; the other looks out on San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate bridge. Amazingly, it barely hosts anything anymore. Only minor changes would be needed for it to be capable of hosting an IAAF World Championships.
See also: Ducky Drake Stadium (UCLA Bruins, 1969 / 11,700), host of many major championships and invitationals but which has fell mostly silent in the last two decades.

The Pheonix: Icahn Stadium Who runs there: The pros.
Opened: 2005. Seating: 5,000
This relatively new facility was the site of Usain Bolt's first world record. It was built on the site of the old Downing Stadium, which had opened for the 1936 Olympic Trials and hosted the New York Cosmos late in its life. It's the kind of place just right for New York.
See also: Stagg Field (Chicago Maroons, two versions), the first of the two stadiums was best known not for football or the dozens of track championships it hosted but something about "Manhattan".

New Kid on the Block: John McDonnell Field
Who runs there: Arkansas Razorbacks
Renovated: 2006. Seating: 10,000.
The facililty actually dates from much earlier but was completely restructured four years ago, and hosted the 2009 NCAA championships. Fayetteville is trying to wrest the title of "Track Town" away from Eugene, but Tyson money just doesn't compete with Nike money.
See also: Mike Myers Stadium (Texas Longhorns, 1999 / 20,000) hosts the Texas Relays and is gunning for more.

Small College Wonder: Selby Field
Who runs there: Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops
Opened: 1929. Seating: 9,100
The photo just doesn't do it justice. This gem has to be seen to be experienced. If it's not the best D-III facility in the nation, it's the best-looking. The OWU website claims it to be the oldest facility in the nation constructed to "Olympic specifications" (whatever that means) and still in its original configuration. Once they ruined Ohio Stadium, this became the best place between the Alleghenies and the Rockies.
See also: Whittier Field (Bowdoin Polar Bears, 1904 / 9,000), a tiny bucolic New England setting so historic that the meets should still be in black and white.


Martin said...

Washington actually hasn't hosted the Pac-10 Championships since 1997 and isn't on the schedule to host them in the near future (2010 will be Cal, 2011-Arizona, 2012-USC, and 2013-WSU). It is a shame they don't host large meets, but they just can't do it at this point because their track is 20 years old and in disrepair. Since it is in the stadium, football trucks drive over it when setting up for games and temporary bleachers are put over the east turn. In addition, the hammer throw facility is 30 minutes off campus, making it difficult to host bigger meets. There are plans to remove the track if the school ever gets enough funding to remodel the football stadium.

Scott said...

I thought that the LA Coliseum was the largest stadium with a track, but alas, I see from their web page that the track is no longer there, and in the history section they don't even mention track and field.

One disadvantage for UCLA's Drake Stadium (named for "Ducky" Drake the long time UCLA coach who coached Rafter Johnson and CK Yang, who came in 1 - 2 in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympics) is that they don't have a hammer facility, and have to throw 30 minutes away at WLA College in Culver City.

Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego has one of the most scenic track facilities in the country. Go to to see the track overlooking the Pacific. Alas, PLNU just announced that they are dropping men's track and field (and men's XC) at the end of this year.

UCSD has a scenic track facility and a nice hammer area where hang gliders can often be seen flying above the Pacific.

WizardofhOgZ said...

With regards to the title of "Tracktown USA" . . . just check the number of NCAA Championships and this argument easily sorts itself out.

By the way . . . where is the U of O Indoor Track facility? Here is Arkansas':

liz said...

Speaking as a UW alumna, I can say first-hand that the UW track is crap. I only ran speed work there a few times because the track was so work out you could see the underlying pavement in some areas. I was wearing racing flats for those workouts and can't imagine running on spikes there.
And Edwards only needs "minor changes" to host an IAAF World Championship? I now live in Berlin and went to several days of last summer's championship. The 70,000 seat stadium was sold out. I can't imagine Edwards being updated to the level of the Berlin Olympic Stadium.
Of course, I'm a little biased, as I'm from Oregon, but NCAA titles do not a "track town" make. Eugene (and Oregon in general) has a long history of devotion to track and produced some of the most recognized figures of USA track and field (Prefontaine, Bowerman, Salazar). Hayward has been the site of 3 Olympic Trials for a reason: the crowd is knowledgeable, with a large number being runners themselves. Ask international runners which US track is their favorite and 9 times out of 10, they'll say Oregon (10 out of 10 if they're distance runners). The fact is, the 2 Diamond League track meets hosted in the USA are in New York and Eugene and there's a reason for that. Even though Eugene is a tiny venue compared to all the rest, the IAAF knows they'll bring the fans.