The impressive World Athletics Championships Oregon22 left people wanting more. Retired Nike athlete Kristin Ihle Helledy watched the first World Championships held on U.S. soil knowing the possibilities for the venue, Hayward Field — on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon — are endless.
“It's something to behold, this facility! I'm hoping to see more events hosted over the years — World Athletics meets, Olympic Trials, World Junior meets, NCAA meets. Who knows, maybe one day they'll host the track and field Olympics. It's an amazing facility.”
Hayward Field played host to athletes and fans worldwide. More than 1,700 participants competed and nearly 150,000 people purchased tickets to watch the world’s elite in Nike’s backyard.
The six-time collegiate All-American can’t imagine the newly renovated stadium sitting empty in Eugene.
“What I'm sure of is Phil Knight didn't have this thing built for a one-and-done event. I'll go back for whatever big events they have there. It was just so enjoyable,” said Kristin Ihle Helledy.
“I ran into so many old friends and people who I used to hang with back in the day. Boy, there were just so many national and world records set. It was really amazing. It was just quite enjoyable to watch.”
A record-breaking 29 countries won gold medals at the championships. More countries than ever had athletes reach the finals in their respective events. Everything about the return trip to TrackTown USA was high level.
“It was just exciting, from the actual forum itself — the meet, and the care for the athlete’s and event overall. All of the efforts allowed you to take in all of the exciting events,” said Kristin Ihle Helledy.
The venue and renovations had the same ambiance Ihle Helledy remembers from running in Eugene more than 20 years ago.
“The spirit and the energy were the same as way back in the day when I was competing. I can recall being on the backstretch. You just couldn't even hear yourself think, couldn't hear feet striking because the crowd was so loud on the backstretch. The vibe and soul were the same.
“I'm speechless. Fan accessible, media accessible. These facilities were just second to none from a fan experience, coaching experience, and athlete experience. Now, I haven't had an athlete experience in the new stadium, but I’d imagine it's much improved over the old stadium that was here.” added Kristin Ihle Helledy.
The Oregon22 event organizers welcomed and paid homage to two black U.S. athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were vilified after taking a stand against injustice during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
“It was refreshing to elevate these guys and give them a platform that they tried to take in the '60s.” said Ihle Helledy.
Even the locals caught Kristin Ihle Helledy’s attention. She stayed in an Airbnb and went for a run one day. Once she finished her workout and began the trek back to where she was staying, she walked past a home about a mile and a half from the track, and one she used to run past when she lived in Eugene years earlier.
“I was just kind of standing there looking at this house because the garden was so beautiful. This woman came out and she says, ‘Oh, how are you doing,’ and we kind of chatted. She said, ‘You look really familiar,’ and I said, ‘Well, I used to train here years ago,’ and she said, ‘Yeah. I've lived here for about 35 years.’ And then she kind of pointed out, ‘You used to come down this,’ and she pointed which street and which direction I'd come from. I said, ‘Oh, yeah. Yep.’
“There's no community in the United States where that happens. I'm 53. I was 28 to 33 when I was training here in Eugene. What are the odds of that? That someone would remember me from so long ago. That says it all about the community.
“TrackTown is the heartbeat of mid-distance and distance running in the United States, and of course we all know the story of Nike. Eugene, OR is an amazing community.”