Olympic Trials – Comments of a Coach

There was a whirlwind of activity concerning the Olympic Trials being held in Eugene, Oregon after two very successful Trials in Sacramento, California. I personally favored Sacramento because we could count on hot weather for sprinters during the day and cool and favorable weather at night for distance runners. In addition, the stands capacity at Sacramento was greater and thus more revenue to USATF. I should have known better than to doubt Vinnie Linanna, the moving force behind the Eugene bid. He had succeeded me as Director of Track and Field/Cross Country at Stanford University and far exceeded anything I had accomplished in the previous 13 years. That was not an all too easy feat as we had produced 8 Olympians in both 1988 and 1992 from the program, along with some very high finishes at the NCAA Championships. However, Vinnie did take the program to new NCAA heights and successes. The question then became, could he pull off the same kind of unparalleled success with the Olympic Trials.

After the Trials, Vinnie, his wife Betty and I collected for a time at the HIlton Hotel for something of winding down. I advised him that the Olympic Trials had been the best track and field experience I had witnessed and enjoyed since the Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles. Every possible support amenity for coaches and athletes was provided. There was not only room for medical and massage support staff provided by the meet, but there was also space for personal medical and support staff for athletes as well. There were television monitors in these areas so that coaches could attend to athletes yet to compete, and also observe athletes that were competing on the track. This was a very big plus for coaches who had more than one or two athletes in the meet. No amenity was overlooked from people coming by on a regular basis to clean up area, to fruit, replacement fluids, and protein bars being made available for free.

With all of the basic support necessary for a quality meet in place and working, yet it was the very knowledgeable crowds and their responses that made the event so very special. The crowds were instrumental in inspiring certain athletes to ascend heights of excellence that many were not sure possible. The stands were filled for almost every session and the stands literally bordered the track in south cases and this provided a coziness unequalled anywhere else. The electricity and chemistry that reciprocated between the fans and athletes was beyond anything I had experienced in my more than 50 years in the sport. I remember advising an athlete I coached, ” Hey,….if you can not get up for this, let me know and I’ll call a mortician !”. The psyche job didn’t work,…. but the concept was accurate and valid.

Eugene will host the 2009, and 2011 USA Track and Field Nationals. It will also host the Olympic Trials for 2012. I have this lingering question in the back of my head, ” Can they exceed our expectations again ? “. My doubts were put to rest in 2008, Vinnie and the Oregon Track Club, based upon their record, will do the same for 2009, 2011, and 2012.
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