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The day has finally come. The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials begin tomorrow here in Eugene, Oregon. For all the athletes with dreams of Beijing in their minds, tomorrow commences the culmination of months and years of preparation in this one shot to make the U.S. Olympic team. I am not a track star, nor did the sport hold much interest in this sports fanatic's realm of knowledge until I deigned to move, with my then-still-a-girlfriend, to Eugene, Oregon. We moved without any solid job lined up for either of us (though I had already had one phone interview with the chef who ended up becoming my boss two weeks after arrival), only a desire to get out of Iowa, a wish to return to the Pacific Northwest where my future bride and I first met, and what essentially amounted to my in-laws guiding us steadily into the heart of the Willamette Valley guiding us to settle where the Willamette and Mckenzie Rivers converge. This is Track Town USA, home of historic Hayward Field, the legacy of Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine and the birth of Nike...

 

Suddenly I was listening to people at work talking about athletes I had never heard of before... and it was exciting and fresh and a whole new world of history and tradition to absorb. And I arrived at the same time as Oregon was experiencing a blossoming of some of its track recruits into world-class athletes. Tomorrow, when the events begin, six current Oregon students will compete in their various events for the chance to become the first jumpers or throwers or runners to represent the United States AND the University of Oregon since 1980. A half-dozen athletes, who run as Ducks the rest of the year, could be wearing red white and blue... and two, Galen Rupp (10,000m) and Nicole Blood (5000m), could be racing for their shot to represent their country on this nation's 232nd birthday...

 

The rest -- Ashton Eaton (decathlon), Andrew Wheating (800m & 1500m), Rachel Yurkovich (javelin) and potentially A.J Acosta (1500m), who as a B-time qualifier is still awaiting the total entry number of A-time qualifiers to see if he makes the cut -- will have the benefit of competing on the home track and in the home stadium. Hayward Field has been going crazy with construction lately. Today I had the pleasure of touring through the facilities, surveying our catering facilities in advance of the craziness of the next two weeks. I had the good fortune to be able to snap off a few photos for you all as well, so please enjoy as we preview the 2008 Olympic Track and Field Trials...

 

My wife dropped me off for work just before 8:30 this morning. She then started on her journey to the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival down on the Black Oak Ranch near Laytonville, California, where she will be spending the next three days working long hours as a barista and hearing a killer line-up of performers. I sit here, alone, typing this as she probably sets up camp and prepares for a long day tomorrow. We both prepare for long days tomorrow...

 

I started my day and worked straight through until lunchtime preparing over two-hundred loaves of ciabatta and focaccia into panini of various meats and cheeses. The past several days have been a whirlwind of food preparation, cleaning over a hundred pounds of fish and preparing salmon-in-halibut roasts for Phil Knight and the Nike crew and traying hors d'oeuvres by the panful only to watch all these flash-frozen items get pulled right back out only a few days later. Lunch went by fast,Where some of my food will be served... too fast, as we returned to find most of our day finished and over four hours to go. My boss decided we needed a staff field trip to survey our various sites where our food would be served during the Trials...

 

We began up in the media area under the covered tennis courts on campus. Tucked west of Hayward Field and just behind the main entrance to historic and nearly-obsolete Mac Court (I work in the building that will be abutting the new stadium in the works), these tennis courts have been converted into full staging facilities for serving over a thousand people three meals a day. Along with my co-workers, I will be the guy putting out all this food... probably every day during the festivities... so bear with me over the next two weeks as I will be largely consumed with the influx of people onto the University of Oregon campus and throughout the Eugene-Springfield metro area...

 

Eugene Festival set-up west of Hayward Field...Next we walked around a little bit, simply to get a feel for what people will be doing in the festival village while we are toiling in the kitchen. There are giant booths erected with various diversions. A large part of the village will be powered by human power. Sponsored by Safeway, this booth has a bank of stationery bicycles on which volunteers can pedal. Monitors inform the riders how much power they are generating at any given moment. Banks of solar panels have also been brought in to help make these Olympic Trials one of the "greenest" sporting events ever staged...

 

But the diversions do not all involve human exertion. There are booths sponsored by the Oregon Lottery, complete with video poker machines for the over-21 crowd; interactive game areas sponsored by companies like Dick's Sporting Goods; food and drink... basically anything BUT track and field while one is sitting outside the stadium. Well, except for the ubiquitous screens erected here and there, where people without tickets can still watch the action inside Hayward...

 

Then we got the real treat: our nifty little security-pass credentials, affixed around each of us cooks' necks as we strolled into and around the festival area (essential items, as the area is heavily cordoned off with metal detector points, drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs, Homeland Security trucks, satellite transmitters, etc. etc. to prevent any funny business), allowed us admittance into the Bowerman Building. Named after long-standing and trend-setting Oregon men's track coach Bill Bowerman, the building houses many of the high-end suites where VIPs will be watching the action on the track and in the lawn while eating our food. This is the view these people will be taking in:

 

Look left...  ... and then right...

 

 

The amount of work and additions done to this stadium, perhaps the greatest track-specific stadium in the world, are simply amazing... especially since I watched the entire progress as I came to and from work every day at the University. If you look closely at the two photos above, you can see the sheer number of seats added. In the left picture, the biggest building is the original grandstand; the smaller white-roofed building and the green structure aside it are both temporary structures erected specifically for this meet. In the picture on the right, that Jumbotron at the far end of the track -- and both stands on either side of it -- are brand-spaking new. The sheer dollar amount poured into these Trials is mind-boggling... and we'll get to do it all again in four years, Eugene having already been awarded 2012 Trials as well...

 

Forty events will be contested over the next ten days. Some athletes will book their tickets to Beijing; others will be going home after these festivities. Six might not have far to go either way -- whether they end up packing for China or preparing for next school year. Somewhere between seventy-five and one-hundred THOUSAND people will be descending on the University of Oregon campus to witness something which has not come to the spiritual home of track and field in the United States in over two decades. The University has prepared lavishly to showcase a beautiful venue and campus... and I have the pleasure of being here to witness it all, one platter of canapes at a time...

 

So tomorrow, as you surf around looking for updates in the aftermath of the NBA Draft, perhaps you ought to come here and keep yourself updated as to who is going to be representing the Stars and Stripes on the track and in the field when the world's nations congregate in Asia to compete and celebrate the Olympic spirit of unity through sport. And keep it tuned in to A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America for updates each of the next two weeks from Eugene. Sorry for the lack of other sports this week, but I felt you all deserved to see this great stadium if you hadn't before. After all, there's plenty of soccer reading out there for you all right now... and if you need some tennis news read this...

 

For now, I leave you with one last inspiring shot. Tomorrow thousands will flood through these gates to cheer on their countrymen and women as they vie for a coveted spot on the Olympic roster... may good sportsmanship and strong competition prevail...

 

 Hayward Field...

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