Can’t Make it to Beijing? Go to Eugene!

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing may be over a month away, but there’s still time to catch some Olympic action stateside at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track and field, held June 27 through July 6 in Eugene, Oregon. My hometown of Eugene, lovingly known as Track Town USA, is a mecca for runners who come to literally follow in the footsteps of running legends. But I can testify that you don’t have to be a runner to appreciate what Eugene has to offer.

For the fourth time, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be held at the historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. Hayward has been home to Ducks track and field since its construction in 1919 and is the place to go to get a track and field fix. Check out statues of stadium namesake Bill Hayward, who built up the Ducks’s track and field program in the 44 years he served as coach, and Bill Bowerman, who coached the legendary Steve Prefontaine and also co-founded Nike.

Hayward Field has been expanded by 6,000 seats for the trials, but if you don’t have a ticket head to Eugene 08 Festival happening just outside of the stadium. This free, sustainable festival is open to everyone and will have two jumbo screens with simulcast of the events, a solar-powered entertainment stage, sports bar, food court (try a burrito from Ritta’s Burritos), along with interactive exhibits and kid-friendly areas. Buses will provide shuttle service and a bike and skateboard valet will be available to keep the carbon footprint down.

For a break from the action, wander onto the beautiful 295-acre U of O campus. Check out the exhibits at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Take in the beautiful old buildings like Deady Hall and new modern marvels like the LEED-certified Lillis Business Complex. Grab a seat in Columbia Hall 150 to catch one of the films in the first Running Film Festival, (screening times won’t interfere with trial times for all the die-hard fans). Or head to the 1873 Pioneer Cemetery across from McArthur Court for a nice stroll among old gravestones and towering Douglas firs.

To explore more track and field history, put on your running shoes and head to Pre’s Trail, a four-mile unpaved trail named for Steve “Pre” Prefontaine, who was one of America’s greatest distance runners. Track stars may want to head up into the hills to Pre’s Rock on Skyline Boulevard to leave a memento at the memorial at the site of the legendary track star’s tragic death in a car accident in 1975.  While it isn’t safe to stop on foot or in a car at the memorial for long because of the curvy street, Hendricks Park is located just up the hill and is a nice spot for contemplation, city views, and strolls amidst tree-sized rhododendron bushes.

Paved multi-purpose trails also circle the banks of the Willamette River to create an extensive network of parks and bridges through downtown Eugene. Be sure to check out the Peter DeFazio footbridge and stop to smell the roses in the Owen Rose Garden.

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The river path easily connects to great shopping and dining areas downtown.  Divert off the river and swing by the new and improved Oakway Center for shopping and a bite to eat at Café Yumm! (I take a large bottle of Yumm! sauce back to DC with me every time I visit).  Or head to the historic Fifth Street Public Market to browse a unique collection of shops and eateries closer to downtown.  Eugene’s Nike store is also located at Fifth Street, and you can learn all about Eugene’s role in the beginnings of Nike in a permanent exhibit at the entrance to the store.

Picking up a pair of the latest kicks isn’t the only reason to explore the city on foot. There are many running trails found all over Eugene and the Oregon Track Club has a wonderful map available here. With so much to do in Track Town USA, don’t forget to head those shoes back to where the action is. Perhaps you’ll be able to witness your favorite athletes make the U.S. Olympic team!

Photos: Krista Rossow

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