EUGENE From the beginning, Friday nights meet was a little unusual for Shannon Rowbury.
For one thing, the warm-up track is generally a pretty serious place. But Friday night at Hayward Field, before she competed in the TrackTown Summer Series, Rowbury found herself having a lighthearted lets go chat with Canadian 800-meter national champion Melissa Bishop, her teammate on Team San Francisco, one of the four teams TrackTown USA organized for the meet, which scored by teams.
Thats something thats fun, said Rowbury, who runs for the Nike Oregon Project, which isnt the same type of team. Most races, especially when youre at a championship, you know one another but youre laser-focused and youre like, I like you, but I want to beat you.
For another, Rowbury was running the 800, not her signature event. Shes the American record holder in the 1,500 and has twice made the Olympic final in the event, and shell represent the U.S. for the third consecutive Summer Olympics later this month in Rio de Janeiro. But for this meet, between the Olympic Trials and Rio, running the shorter distance made sense.
The unusual atmosphere paid off for Rowbury, who broke the two-minute barrier for the first time, finishing third in 1 minute, 59.97 seconds. Shed set her previous PR in 2010. I couldnt want more than that going into Rio, she said.
In addition, her third-place finish gave Team San Francisco six team points, helping it to a victory over Team New York, 179 to 173.5. Portland was third with 166 points, and Philadelphia finished last at 155 1/2.
The team aspect was a lot of fun, said University of Oregon graduate Colby Alexander, who won the mens 1,500 and added 10 points for Team San Francisco. I kept thinking about how close the team race was. It brought me back to my Oregon days, my high school days, when you had to run the 4x4 and take it home for the team.
Those are just the kind of scenarios TrackTown USA President Vin Lananna envisioned when he conceived of the event, which he intends to eventually expand into a true series, not a one-off meet. Its part of his continuing effort to raise the profile of track and field in the United States and build momentum for the 2021 IAAF world championships in Eugene.
First and foremost, it was in the U.S., which gave American athletes and a few Canadians a chance to compete against top competition without flying to Europe, which is expensive and puts them at a disadvantage because of jet lag and other potential travel issues.
And the meet featured four teams, each with 36 athletes. Each team drafted athletes, with picks announced on Twitter, but who made the picks and organized the teams has not been specified.
Lananna says U.S. sports fans relate better to teams, a sentiment echoed by many of the athletes Friday night.
And the meet paid well. The top six place-winners in each event won cash ranging from $4,000 for the winner to $750 for fifth place. Athletes received bonuses for their draft position: $3,000 for first-round picks down to $750 for fifth- through eighth-round picks. And each member of the winning team got a $1,000 bonus, which provided extra motivation.
Attendance was announced at 3,405, and many of those fans got an up-close-and-personal experience, either competing alongside the elites in a four-mile road race (in 95-degree heat) before the track events or watching from the track for the final three events. Kids were allowed onto the infield to watch the field events, giving them a chance to high-five competitors after their jumps.
Lananna called the event a great success, saying he expected a crowd of about 2,500. I think you have to start someplace, he said. I think this is part of the issue in the United States people are not accustomed to having track and the field in the summer time, and thats something we have to change.
The mens 1,500 was loaded with Portland-connected athletes, with Alexander using a final kick to win in 3:34.88. Ben Blankenship of OTC Elite, running for Team Philadelphia, ran from the front early and finished third in a PR of 3:35.02. Former Oregon Ducks Eric Jenkins (3:35.94) and Johnny Gregorek (3:36.04) finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Matthew Centrowitz of the Nike Oregon Project, like Rowbury, ran the 800 instead of his typical 1,500, and he finished fourth in 1:47.17, behind third-place Harun Abda of OTC Elite (1:45.77).
It was about getting a hard effort in, and it was faster than a mile race, Centrowitz said. Any time you run a little quicker than Im going to be running in Rio is always a good thing.
Training partners Devon Allen and Johnathan Cabral, a current and a former Duck, ran a match race of the 110 hurdles. Allen, who was first at the U.S. Olympic Trials, won in 13.15. Cabral, who will represent Canada in Rio, finished in 13.36.
We were going to do that anyway in practice, Allen said. It was cool to do it in front of a crowd.
Oregon alum Jordan Hasay finished second in the four-mile road race (20:07.90).
Bowerman Track Clubs Andrew Bayer placed third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (8:22.79).
Jasmine Todd, a former U of O jumper, finished third in the long jump (21 feet, 2 3/4 inches).
Oregon alum Phyllis Francis, who will run the 400 in Rio, anchored Team Philadelphias winning mixed mens and womens 4x400 relay.