KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS
Vin Lananna could hardly suppress a smile as he addressed a crowd of nearly 500 gathered Tuesday night at the "House of Track" in Northwest Portland.
"In 72 days, we will rock the world," the 2016 U.S. men's track and field Olympic track and field coach told the throng.
The track and field world, anyway.
The first World Indoor Championships to be held in the U.S. in 28 years -- and only the second ever -- will be staged March 17-20 at the Oregon Convention Center.
But that's only part of the story.
The state will be at the epicenter of the sport throughout the year on the road to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, beginning with the U.S. Indoor Championships March 11-12 at the OCC and including the NCAA Championships June 8-11 and the U.S. Olympic Trials July 1-10, both at Eugene's Hayward Field.
In addition, a series of high-performance and development meets will be staged in January and February at the "House of Track," a facility deftly put together in a warehouse along Portland's Northwest Front Avenue.
Most observers got their first look Tuesday night at the track that will be used for the U.S. and world championship events during what amounted to an open house as part of the monthly "TrackTown Tuesday" series that moved from Eugene to Portland for the first time.
The track is a stunning mesh of green (light for competition areas, dark for non-competition areas) that will be broken down into 1,400 pieces and reassembled as a six-lane, 200-meter banked track (with a 160-meter warm-up track) when the operation is moved to the OCC next month. The entire set-up weighs 200 tons and covers 40,000 square feet.
Lananna's master plan is to expose as many people in the state as possible to track and field through the series of events, beginning with the high-performance and development meets. The high-performance meets, featuring college and open athletes, will be staged on Fridays (Jan. 15, 22 and 29 and Feb. 5) and the development meets on Saturdays (Jan. 16, 23, 30 and Feb. 6) at the "House of Track" over the next month.
"The Feb. 5 meet will be a big invitational, with really good people," said Lananna, the TrackTown USA president and an associate athletic director at Oregon, where he served as track coach for eight years.
High school athletes who compete at the Feb. 6 meet and during a Portland Indoor Classic in conjunction with the U.S. Championships will have the opportunity to qualify for six relay teams -- three boys, three girls -- that will compete in different divisions during the World Championships at the OCC.
In addition, the Nike-Plus Run Club will offer "speed runs" to the public while the track is set up at the "House of Track." Elite athletes will also have the opportunity to train there.
"It's going to be in use a lot, by a lot of people, over the next month," Lananna said.
Lananna was "very much pleased" with the turnout that packed the warehouse/track facility.
"It was a great crowd," he said. "This is what it's all about. Darn right it feels good. It's a special place. This track is going to be well-received.
"We have a great partnership with the city of Portland and all the people here. it's been heartwarming to have all this come together."
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales spoke to the crowd, and five local distance runners who will compete in the U.S. Indoors were on hand for a question-and-answer session handled by former Duck athlete Jordan Kent, now a broadcaster for Comcast Sports Net Northwest.
On hand were Matt Centrowitz and Shannon Rowbury, who train under Alberto Salazar with Nike Oregon Project; Emily Infeld, who works with Jerry Schumacher in the Bowerman Track Club, and Hassan Mead and Tom Farrell of Eugene's Oregon Track Club Elite.
It was the first look at the track for all the runners.
"It's a great-looking track, and I like this venue, too," said Infeld, 25, a surprise bronze medalist at 10,000 meters in the 2015 World Outdoor Championships who said she will run the 3,000 at the U.S. Indoors. "I love running outdoors, but indoors is fun as well. I just like track in general.
"It's really cool that it's in the U.S., and it's incredible that it's in Portland. I feel so lucky. Get to sleep in my own bed."
Salazar emphasizes indoor track, so Rowbury and Centrowitz have plenty of experience.
"With Alberto, we do a pretty full indoor season," said Rowbury, 31, who has represented the U.S. in the last four World Outdoor Championships and broke Mary Slaney's 32-year-old American 1,500-meter record in July. "That seems to be a good set-up for me."
Rowbury said she will probably compete in the 3,000 at the U.S. Indoors. The top two Americans in each event qualify for the World Indoors.
"I'm so thrilled for it to be in Portland," she said. "I have goose bumps thinking about it.
"A World Champs is a World Champs, indoors or outdoors. When I was racing in the 2014 World Indoors, I was coming off tightness and bursitis in my hips and wasn't at my peak. The last two years have been really exciting ones for me. If I want to beat those girls in the Olympics, I need to start doing it now."
Centrowitz has been one of the world's premier outdoor 1,500 runners since his days at Oregon, earning bronze in the 2011 World Championships, placing fourth in the 2012 Olympics, winning silver in the 2013 World Championships and placing eighth in the 2015 World Championships. But he is very familiar with indoor track, too.
"I've been doing indoor since high school, and I did it pretty heavily in college," said Centrowitz, 26, who isn't sure if he'll run the 800, 1,500 or 3,000 at the U.S. Indoors. "Alberto has a hard indoor approach, and I've always enjoyed it.
"If you start racing when the outdoor season starts in March or April and go through August, that's not long enough. Having two peaks and taking a little rest in between indoors and outdoors -- I tend to do better with that. Indoors also allows you to see where you are with your training. You can't make many adjustments by the time outdoors come."
Centrowitz expects to train at the "House of Track" over the next month.
"It gives us an opportunity to do some tune-ups and get a feel for the track going into the U.S. and World Indoors," he said. "Every track is different -- the banks, the surface. It will be nice to get a few workouts and races on it."
Schumacher initially planned to have his runners compete in the high-performance meets at the "House of Track," but will have them in Flagstaff, Ariz., for altitude training during January.
"I don't know if the timing will work," Schumacher said, "but if we can pull it off, we will."
Schumacher offered a thumb's up appraisal of the "House of Track."
"This facility is fantastic," he said. "I would love to keep it here. This would be a fun place to come and run track every winter and spring, not only for professional athletes but high school and college and anybody else who enjoys track."
TrackTown USA's lease on the facility is up in February, but Lananna, too, would like to make it a permanent site for indoor track and field.
"We're working on it," he said.
Single-session tickets for the World Indoors go on sale Jan. 15. Until then, all-session packages are available at Portland2016.com.