Last updated 7/19/2022 at Noon
Eugene cannot be described as cosmopolitan, or even really urban, but during the World Athletics (track-and-field) Championships, which have attracted hundreds of athletes and thousands of fans from over 200 countries for the meet that runs July 15-24, “Track Town, USA” has certainly taken on a distinctive international flavor.
As I parked near Mac Court on the University of Oregon campus Thursday evening to pick up my media credentials, I looked across the street to the pioneer cemetery and saw a group of four Kenyan runners cruising along in stride on the dirt path as part of a workout. A contingent of smiling and laughing Jamaican fans clad in the bright yellow and green of their country told me, “We love our track-and-field!” In the line to drop off my bike at the valet, a family from Germany asked how to find Prince Puckler’s ice cream shop.
And once inside the new Hayward Field, an opportunity to rub elbows with the world exists at every turn.
A Japanese coach anxiously watched lap after lap to see if his steeplechaser would make it to the final, and the two of us attempted to communicate as best we could. Finally, it was his smile that told me his runner had met the goal. A Korean journalist spoke proudly of his country’s high jumper named Woo Sang-hyeok, who achieved the top qualifying mark to make the final.
“He is world indoor champion!” the man said.
A group of Canadians cheered wildly along the last loop of the marathon Sunday morning, as their compatriot moved into fourth place and looked to be in contention for a podium finish. Later that afternoon, a Kenyan journalist, in her first visit ever to the U.S., as a correspondent for the BBC, described her surprise at just how small Eugene is compared to other world championship cities.
“They don’t even have an Apple store here,” she said.
As exciting as the action on the field is, the cultural infusion is equally enjoyable. Watching the athletes hugging or slapping each other on the back after a hard-fought race to the finish line indicates a mutual respect that we can all use as a lesson in humanity.
Sports do have a way of encouraging diplomacy and goodwill across borders. Ukrainian athletes get an extra dose of cheer when their names are announced compared to other visitors. The last-place finisher in the marathon gets equal crowd reaction as the leaders. The gold and bronze medalists in the 10,000 meters, from Uganda, happily let me take their pictures to share with my sister-in-law who lives there. Fans from all over the globe are “birds of a feather” as track-and-field lovers and everyone is in good spirits. The “us versus them” mentality common in other sports is more like “we.”
And that alone makes being present here worthwhile.