Over 3,000 athletes and team officials from across the globe will be making their way to Oregon. They are all coming to compete in this year’s World Athletics Championship, which begins next week. This will be the event’s first year to take place in the U.S. and will be held in what’s known as Tracktown USA. Sasha Spencer is the athlete and team experience director for the World Athletics Championships. Todd Davidson is the CEO of Travel Oregon. Portland runner Emily Infeld is a 2016 Olympian and a competitor in the 5,000 meters. They join us to share what it means for an event like this to be held in Eugene and what it might mean for the future of Oregon sports.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing and Eugene. Yes. Eugene. It may not normally be seen as a city of the same stature as those other world capitals, but they all do share at least one thing in common. They were all chosen as the sites for Track and Field’s World Championships, the one in Eugene, the 2022 World Athletic Championships are going to be starting in just nine days. It’s going to be the first time in history that the Games will be held on US soil, a mark of just how special Hayward Field is for Track and Field. We’re going to get three perspectives on the upcoming event right now from an athlete, an organizer and an Oregon Tourism Booster. Emily Infeld is a 2016 Olympian who recently qualified for the 5,000 meter run at the World Championships. Sasha Spencer is a former professional runner herself who is now the Athletic and Team-experienced Director for this year’s Championships, and Todd Davidson is a CEO of Travel Oregon. Welcome to all three of you.
Emily Infeld/Sasha Spencer/Todd Davidson: Thanks for having us. Thanks, so much.
Dave Miller: Sasha Spencer first. Can you give us a sense for the scale of this event?
Sasha Spencer: It’s interesting. World Athletics Championships is comprised of 214 member Federations. We actually have more participation than the Olympic Games and it really is the creme de la creme of the sport, globally. I think in addition to all of the stars that we know are coming, in total, we’ll welcome around 2,700 Athletes and Team Officials. You also have a lot of Athletes from smaller countries who, maybe are not going to end up at the top of the podium, but who are involved in an effort to make this sport accessible and inclusive, and who are equally celebrated in Hayward Field.
Miller: Folks in Eugene and plenty of Oregonians are really used to big track and field events. I mean, college championships, US National Championships, Olympic Trials. So it’s not like PreFontaine Classic [Apr 18, 2022], I mean, plenty of other one off big deal events. How different is this going to be?
Spencer: It’s very different. And we’ve had to do a bit of an education campaign for the very reason that you pointed out, we’re used to hosting big events here. The difference here is, one, the number of participating federations, as I said, also the duration of it. So this is 10 days of competition, 16 sessions over the course of those 10 days. In addition we have a marathon that we wouldn’t normally have, coinciding with any of those events as well as for race walk events taking place, out in the Austin Complex. So it’s different in the fact that it’s on a grander scale of participation, but also just the global viewership and I’m sure Todd will talk about how important it was from a travel tourism standpoint, this is, we were anticipating over six billion impressions across all different media platforms, so it’s a very, very big deal and we’re excited that the community and the state of Oregon has really stepped up to to host this.
Miller: Todd Davis, and I do want to hear about the tourism hopes and dreams, but I did note that we have an athlete who’s going to be competing at these championships with us. And so, Emily, I want to turn to you just for a few minutes. You’ve had to deal with a series of injuries, surgery, in recent years and then you roared back in June with a third place in the trials to make the 5,000 meter for this national team. Can you describe what it felt like when you crossed that line, and realized you were going to be going to the championships again?
Emily Infeld: It’s absolutely amazing. I’d missed the last few years of championships and I’ve been looking forward to this one because I live in Portland, Oregon and I’ve competed in Eugene and there’s just such a history for Hayward, and to be able to compete for Team USA on US soil is incredible. And to be in my home state after lots of tumultuous years and not feeling like I would ever get back to the top. I feel like I had a lot of doubt and it was incredible to see it finally pay off, and we just have such depth in US Running that it’s really hard to make a team, it never gets easier. I just can’t be more thrilled.
Miller: Having doubt in yourself seems like such an understandable but terrifying thing because I imagine you need to believe you can do everything to do the kind of superhuman things you’re doing. Was there a moment when the belief in yourself came back and you actually thought, ‘I can do this, I can perform not just at my highest level, but my highest level will be good enough at the national or world level again.’ When did you feel that way again?
Infeld: Yeah, this year I missed, I competed at the trials last year and just was not in a good place, fitness wise, my body wasn’t in a great place, and things started really clicking this year and I felt like I could make that 10,000 m team in May and I missed it by a quarter of a second, and I think for so long, I always put myself in that box. I’m like, ‘This is my main event, the 10,000 is my main event, but being so close to that, I still have speed, I’m fast, I am capable of making this 5,000 meter team, and I think, putting together the workouts and consistency this year has really helped my confidence and reminded me that I’m still good, I still want it and I think those are the two things you need in order to make it to this level.
Miller: What are your favorite memories from the old Hayward field?
Infeld: I loved competing in college there, so I have some special moments from that, but I made my very first track and field team in 2015 at Hayward and the 2016 Olympic Trials, I made that Olympic Team. So those two moments probably in my professional career were just incredible. So many runners dream of competing at the US Nationals and it’s hard to make teams, and in 2015, I feel like I was kind of a surprise, I had a couple of years of injuries and had just turned my first 10 K a month before and was able to make that world team, and that, for me will always be one of the highlights of my career and Hayward will always be a special place because of that.
Miller: From a runner’s perspective, what is the new field like?
Infeld: It’s insane. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely incredible. No stone left unturned, I feel like for us competing to have those facilities, the warmup facilities, being able to go under the stadium to stay cool in the shade and have access to really anything we could imagine, it’s mind blowing. I love the old Hayward, it was always special to compete there. But seeing this new Hayward, it’s one of the best stadiums, maybe the best stadium in the world. It’s absolutely amazing.
Miller: I don’t mean to doubt anything you’re saying, but I guess I’m so used to hearing this as an Oregonian and I don’t have any ability to fact check and it’s hard for me to know what is sort of ‘homerism’ and Oregonian pride, and what’s global reality. So you’re saying a runner from Croatia or Zimbabwe or Costa Rica, they could come to Hayward field and they, too, are likely to feel like it’s a truly special place?
Infeld: Yes, it’s incredible. The stadium, in and of itself, is amazing. But I think the warm-up facilities for athletes, the track underneath the stadium that they take us to before taking us out onto the track, so we have the ability to do strides, do everything kind of last minute, stay in a cool area, which can get hot in the summer, as it was for the US Championships and I think that, in and of itself is just incredible. I am floored by the stadium. I’ve competed in London and Rio and in Beijing and I might be a little biased, but I think the stadium is the best [Emily and Dave, laughing].
Sasha Spencer: I think one of the things that we recognize makes Hayward Field, ‘Hayward Field,’ and so very special, is the community that it sits in, right? All of the legacy and all of the tradition and the fact that I like to say, and Todd has heard me say, that running is one of our state’s greatest cultural exports. So we really embrace runners and we embrace running in a special way in this community. So in addition to it being a world class facility and all of the great amenities that Emily and the other athletes can look forward to, it also is just a really special place for the sport, and I think that contributes to the experience that all the athletes have in it.
Miller: Todd Davidson, Let’s go to you now, the CEO of Travel Oregon. When did your office start preparing for the event that’s starting in just nine days?
Todd Davidson: We were first approached by our good friends with what is now Oregon ‘22, back in 2015 / 2016, right in there when we were getting ready to put together the bid to potentially host the World Athletic Championships. And so we were first approached at that time, and made aware of what the significance was of this kind of an event.
Miller: What has the preparation looked like? How do you get a city of Eugene’s size ready for an event of this proportion?
Davidson: You get a city the size of Eugene ready by helping bring the entire state together around the city of Eugene. Eugene, as we’ve discussed today, is used to hosting some really big, really significant track meets, Olympic Trials, national championships and the like. This is different. This is a whole different scale. This is tens of thousands of folks from 214 different federations, athletes, media, fans, etcetera, that are going to be traveling to Eugene and to Oregon to be able to experience the World Athletic Championships. And so it’s been a tremendous effort on behalf of our local organizing committee, on behalf of others, the governor’s office has been very involved in this event from its inception, from that initial bid being being made and ensuring that the state support would be there and that the state would be ready: That the transportation, the public safety aspects and such would all be taken into account, as we look to have an opportunity to host the world here in Oregon in just about 10 days.
Miller: What kind of economic impact are you projecting or hoping for?
Davidson: There’s a variety of things that are going to kind of lay over that question, Dave. And when you think about the economic impact, a lot of folks will immediately turn to the event itself, and Eco-Northwest did a study back in 2015 of what the economic opportunity was in Oregon, hosting the World Athletic Championships. And their estimated spending by just visitors alone is $52 million in direct spending. Now, if you add in total event spending and you look at all the output for all goods and services related to the event, you get to about $205 million for the hosting of the event, itself. Now, add to that, the fact that we do have federations that are traveling to Oregon in advance. They’re here now. Some of them have been here for weeks, to hold training camps here in Oregon as well. So we have the economic vitality that is coming from these federations coming to Oregon in advance, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants and helping stimulate local economies across the state as well as part of that. And then there’s this whole component called the broadcast – and the fact that this, as Sasha had alluded to earlier – this is going to be broadcast, primetime around the world, 214 different countries will have media here that will be carrying the broadcast back to their home country. Plus here in the US we’ll have two hours of prime time broadcast every evening of the event. So here’s an opportunity for Oregon to be viewed by billions of people that will not have the opportunity to travel here for the event, but can travel here in the future and have that economic vitality that will come as a result of that as well.
Miller: What are those people going to be seeing besides the heptathlon or you know, the 110 meter hurdles, because I imagine even as splendid as Hayward Field is, that wouldn’t look that the event itself, is not going to look that different from what happened in Doha or Berlin or wherever. So what’s, how do you get people watching anywhere in the world to actually see an event like this and then say to themselves, ‘Oh, I actually, I want to go to Oregon myself.’
Davidson: There’s a variety of ways, but the biggest one for us is working very closely with our colleagues at Oregon ‘22, and the World Athletic Federation, we are working with World Athletic Productions and provided them with ‘B Roll’ footage of Oregon Scenics, every region of the state of Oregon, a variety of different activities, a variety of different scenics. Obviously, high resolution B Roll footage has been made available for them to download and use, and embed into their broadcast. So as they’re breaking away to commercial, they can show this scenic shot of the Oregon coast or Crater Lake or the Cascades or the Mackenzie River or Hell’s Canyon or the Columbia River Gorge. As you know, weave these B Roll images into the broadcast throughout the 10 days of the Competition.
Miller: That sounds savvy. I also mentioned next year, someone from, I don’t know, anywhere in the country arriving in Eugene and saying, ‘Show me the Wallowas I heard they’re great, and I’d like to walk there,’ but I guess they would figure that out before they got to the middle of the Willamette Valley. If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking right now about the 2022 Track and Field World Championships, which are going to start in Eugene in just nine days. Sasha Spencer, I know that your title is, you’re the Athlete and Team Experience Director for these Championships. What does that mean?
Sasha Spencer: Well, from an organizing committee standpoint, we understand that there are silos of work that have to be done from a service provision standpoint, but really all of those things comprise an experience and what we’re really interested in is making sure that athletes have a fantastic experience while they’re here. So it means that my team is responsible for really developing the plans around everything that impacts or is impacted by athletes from their visa process to travel and accommodation to dining and even elements of competition. We work really hard with supporting energizers and functional areas to ensure that every touch point that an athlete will come in contact with across the entire event has been thoughtfully developed and curated really both for optimal performance circumstances, but also just to ensure that they’ve got to have a great time while they’re here with us.
Miller: Emily, you’ve been at Olympics, you’ve been at World Championships, plenty of other really big deal meets. Have you experienced a diversity of positive and negative athlete experiences at these different events, places where you felt like someone didn’t really do Sasha’s job well or didn’t even think about that as a job and places where it felt like someone had actually paid attention to what your life would be like before you got there.
Infeld: I’m fortunate, I don’t have too many negative experiences. I think for me, I feel like each of the World Championships and Olympics I felt like was very thought out and smooth sailing, so I don’t have any negative comments around that, but I’m really looking forward to seeing everything that we are getting to do around Eugene. I feel like it’ll be extra special and for me, the travel’s way easier, so that in and of itself makes it more enjoyable – no jet lag or any of that.
Miller: You can drive an hour and a half or so, 40 minutes, and be at the World Championships.
Miller: What does home field advantage mean in Track and Field?
[Voices overlap, briefly] Spencer: It’s huge for Team USA. Emily and her teammates have never competed on US soil in the World Championships. And if you think about it from a global standpoint, not since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta have they had a home field advantage? I mean obviously there’s gonna be an opportunity for there to be more US fans in the stands to cheer on Team USA and I think Emily can talk a little bit about what that means when you’re coming down the home stretch.
Infeld: Yeah, I think knowing that we have so many fans and my family is able to come, that means the world to me, and just knowing that the stadium is going to be filled with a lot of people rooting for Team USA gives us an incredible advantage. I feel like I think that energy coming down that homestretch and really feeling that and feeling the crowd and feeling the support around Team USA means everything.
Miller: For casual track and field fans or fans who might pay attention to this because they heard you now, or because this big event is happening on US soil, what do you want them to know about your particular event for this? This 5,000 Meters, around and around and around, 3.1 miles around a track. What do you want folks to know about what the athletes are doing?
Infeld: For distance events in particular, there’s so many tactics that go into each and every event, conditions play a huge role. For example, the US Championships, the other weekend, we were running, our second lap was 89 seconds, which is almost a six minute pace, my normal pace for a Five K is in the four forties 4:44:47.
Miller: You were jogging…
Infeld: Yes, so we were jogging. Our last mile is 4:25, so, I think the thing about track and field that I love, and about competition and the distance events in particular, it can be different. Every single race can be different conditions play such a role, but there’s so many tactics that go into it, the paces tend to be part lucky and I think that it’s really exciting to kind of see people go out hard, might slow down and you have to have speed, you have to have strength and you have to have the ability to stay calm when you might not be running as comfortable and sometimes it’s uncomfortable to run that slow and to know that a few seconds is going to happen and for me, the distance and events, I love them. I just think it’s really special to see when breaks happen, moves are made and the pack starts to bunch, but just knowing that there’s so much that goes into it.
Miller: Emily Infeld, congratulations, and best of luck, we’ll be watching. That’s Sasha Spencer, Emily Infeld and Todd Davidson. We’ll be back tomorrow.
Announcer: Think Out Loud is supported by Steve and Jan Oliver, the Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust and Michael and Kristin Kern.
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