The new Hayward Field holds its coming out party this week when the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin a four-day run Wednesday.
Competition starts at 1 p.m. with the decathlon 100 meters (ESPN3). Events on the track will be shown on ESPNU at 5 p.m., and on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.
The LSU men are heavily favored to win, although the Oregon Ducks are in position to make a bid if the Tigers falter.
The battle for the women’s team title looks more competitive, with Texas A&M, LSU, USC, Alabama and Georgia all in the mix.
The real star of the week should be the facility itself, privately constructed at an estimated cost of more than $200 million. There isn’t a track-specific stadium like it in North America.
“I had a couple post-collegians run there this year,” North Carolina A&T coach Duane Ross said at a pre-meet news conference. “They call it the cathedral. … Of course, everybody knew Oregon was going to do it big when it was decided they would redo it.”
The new stadium was constructed on the site of what was known as “historic Hayward Field,” a venue venerated by track fans where Bill Bowerman, Bill Dellinger, Tom Heinonen and Robert Johnson coached NCAA championship teams. It’s the place where distance runner Steve Prefontaine became a legend.
The old stadium’s last hurrah was the 2018 NCAA championships. The rebuild took two years. Last season was lost to the coronavirus.
The new, 12-650-seat Hayward opened for a handful of regular season meets this year. They largely were spectator-free because of COVID-19 concerns.
The state of Oregon and Lane County Public Health have loosened restrictions, meaning 4,400 fans will be allowed inside.
What happens next could be magical.
“Historic Hayward Field,” antiquated though it was, was a remarkable place of synergy between athletes and passionate fans. The alchemy produced something that became known as “Hayward Magic.”
Many of the current UO athletes haven’t experienced it. UO coach Robert Johnson said some aren’t sure what to expect.
“They just don’t know,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Hey, for you rookies that never experienced that Hayward Field magic, that’s the last thing you need to be worried about. These are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. They will do their part.’”
If the LSU men falter at all, this could get interesting fast. The Ducks have heavy hitters such as mid-distance runners Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare, freshman sprinter Micah Williams and triple jumper Emmanuel Ihemeje.
All are potential event winners. Williams is the reigning NCAA indoor champion in the 60 meters. Hocker won NCAA indoor titles in the mile and 3,000. Teare holds the NCAA indoor record in the mile.
Both Hocker and Teare are looking up on the UO career bests list at James West, who holds the school record in the 1,500 of 3:34.07.
Hocker and West are entered in this week’s 1,500, which also includes the dangerous Yared Nuguse of Notre Dame. Hocker and Teare are penciled into the 5,000.
In a meet with a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system, the Ducks bring lots of firepower. But if LSU holds to form, it’s probably not enough.
The Tigers are loaded in the sprints and hurdles, and have two formidable relays.
Asked if his team could sweep the short stuff, LSU coach Dennis Shaver said: “That’s kind of the plan. We hope that happens.”
He conceded it probably wouldn’t, which is why it’s nice to have packed a margin for error for the trip.
“If you win by one point, you’re the NCAA championship team,” Shaver said. “So, that’s all that matters to us.”
The Oregon women come in with big-point potential that includes sprinter Kemba Nelson, 2021 NCAA indoor champ and collegiate record-holder in the 60, steepler Aneta Konieczek and Carmela Cardama Baez in the 10,000.
Portland-area prep fans will remember former Grant High School star Ella Donaghu of Stanford, who figures to contend in the 1,500 and 5,000.
Whether the Ducks can score well enough to muscle into position for one of the four women’s team trophies might hinge on whether the new stadium produces the same sort of “Hayward Magic” the old one did.
Johnson scoffed at the question, saying the alchemy has nothing to do with the stadium’s appearance.
“‘Hayward Magic’ at Hayward Field is something special,” the UO coach said. “No matter the building, no matter the stands, no matter the track, no matter the infield layout, no matter any of those things, the people here in Eugene make that magic.
“Coming off the Bowerman Tower or the Bowerman Curve, however you seem to want to call it, those things are special. It’s going to be real exciting to see.”