I wish I was there . . .

David Yon, June 22, 2021

I would much prefer to be there instead of watching from my couch. The USA Olympic track and field trials and the Olympic track and field games are among my favorite places to be – no matter where they are. COVID – 19 doesn’t care what I think.

But we are way ahead of where we were this time last year when the Olympics and the 2020 U.S. Track and Field Trials were postponed indefinitely. I am most thankful to watch my television and computer screens light up with the sights and sounds of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.  For the most part the coverage is good.  I love hearing from Kara Goucher – most of the time. And while COVID-19 disrupted my chances to attend the events in person, the coverage of the trials, starting with the 10K has helped ease the pain.  The fantastic performances and the amazing battles against adversity have kept me glued to those screens.

Of course, being in Eugene, Oregon (“Track Town USA”) for any track and field meet is special. But it would have been so special to be watching the postponed 2020 Olympic Trials from a seat in the new $200 Million (at least) stadium built specifically for track and field.  But, hey, when viewed through the carnage of COVID-19, I feel most fortunate just to be able to watch them from home.  Bill Hayward was the Father of Oregon track and field and its coach from 1904 – 1947.

The stadium and Hayward Field competition appropriately got when Oregon native, Ryan Crouser, launched a shot put 76 feet, 8 ¼ inches, a world record toss that traveled more than 9 inches further than anyone else has ever thrown. The previous record was set by Randy Barnes 31 years ago. 

Three months after his record put, Barnes was banned for 27 months in 1990 for failing an anabolic steroid test and banned for life in 1998 after testing positive for androstenedione. Despite the ban, the world record remained in place. It seemed at times Crouser believed it was his duty to erase the tainted mark.

In addition to removing a tainted record from the books, Crouser’s throw also reminds us that the nickname “Track Town USA” is not an accurate or at least not a complete name for the city. Yes, indeed track is huge.  But just as big a part of the history and culture of Eugene are the throws, jumps and the multi-sport events. Crouser did buck the family trend and competed for the University of Texas, not Oregon, in college but I suspect after these trials he will not have a problem finding friends to buy him a beer.

That the first world record at the new structure was in a shot put competition is more than appropriate. There is a long history of great throwers, putters and other field events at Hayward Field. There are still a lot of events to be contested but it is hard to imagine a better performance than Ryan Crouser’s throw. The big man (6’7” tall and 320 pounds) danced around the shot put [circle] spinning around like a ballerina while generating enough force to put the shot further than anyone else ever has.

Back on the track, many will like her and many may hate her.   Hopefully, all will appreciate her amazing talent and charisma.  Regardless, the “star” of the show so far is 21-year-old Sha’Carri Richardson. She dyed her hair orange before assaulting the track with her blistering speed to take the top spot in the 100-meter race.  As Richardson said, after sprinting around the track at 400-meter record pace to find and hug her family: “I am an Olympian now and can’t nobody take that away.” she said. About that orange hair, [it is] “to make sure that I’m visible and being seen.” She gave a very emotional interview to Lewis Johnson after her win, including a tearful statement that her biological mother had died very recently.  It is on to the 200 next.

I cannot imagine anyone not falling in love with Allyson Felix. Her beautiful smile and seemingly ever enduring talent, combined with her never say die spirit, make her a favorite.  She was quick to dismiss those who said  her career as an Olympic runner would be over if she went forward with plans to have a child.  However, in November of 2018, 32 weeks pregnant, Felix was diagnosed with a severe case of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to other organ systems, most often the liver and kidneys. Hours after doctors realized the severity of her situation, Felix had an emergency c-section and her daughter Cammy – who is now a healthy two-year-old – was born at 3 pounds, 7 ounces and spent her first month in the NICU.

In May 2019, Felix detailed her childbirth experience in a testimony she gave to Congress at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on racial disparities in maternal mortality.

“I learned that my story was not so uncommon, there were others like me — just like me,” Felix testified. “They faced death like me too, and as I started to talk to more of those women and hear about their experiences, I learned that Black women are nearly four times more likely to die from childbirth than white mothers are in the United States and that we suffer severe complications twice as often.”  It has become a cause for her. She wrote a letter  to her daughter Cammy which she presented at the Ace Hotel Theatre in Los Angeles. “From the terrifying moments of fighting for my life, to the long days in the NICU, you made me stronger than I ever imagined,” Felix told Cammy while standing on stage. “I pictured you growing up in this world and fought to make it a better, more just place for you.”

And by the way – that never say die attitude earned Felix a spot on the 400-meter team in Tokyo. And that is all in just the first half of the trials.

No doubt I wish I was there but at least there is open for business.