Hayward Field, day 1 of the 2022 NCAA track and field trials
Photo credit: Matt Parker/Oregon Track and Field

That Old Hayward Magic Gets New Life
By Rudy Chapa

Bringing the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 to Hayward Field has been in the works for longer than most realize. I remember all the way back in 1996, sitting with fellow alumnus Phil Knight in the plush Rome office of Primo Nebiolo, then president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, track and field’s international governing body, as we pitched a bold idea. We would bring this global competition not just to the United States but to Eugene, Oregon, a college town in the Willamette Valley. It wasn’t quite as wild as it sounded—Eugene and the University of Oregon had already built a reputation as a legendary venue with one of the most passionate track-and-field fan bases in the world—but the idea was still out of left field.

The world championships are huge: they trail only the Olympics and FIFA World Cup as the biggest global sporting events, and they had never been staged in the US. Phil thought that if the event was held in the US it would be great for the sport, but his real dream had always been to bring it to Oregon—and to Hayward Field. It was in some ways an awkward moment. As founder and CEO of Nike, Phil was usually the one being courted rather than trying to make a sale. Still, there he was, proverbial hat in hand, because he had a vision for what the world championships could do for the sport in this country.

 
“We made our pitch—and it was a good one. But the IAAF didn’t bite, and track and field lost an incredible opportunity to boost the sport in the world’s largest market. Also lost was the opportunity to showcase Hayward Field and Oregon to the world. We didn’t know back then that more than twenty-five years later, there would be another chance.”

For decades, the magic of Hayward Field and the greatness it has inspired has emanated out to the world. Legendary coaches such as Hayward, Bowerman, Dellinger, and Heinonen changed forever the way that athletes train. Championship athletes like Pre, Davis, Gardner, and Rogers have won and delighted fans on a global scale. This greatness started with the community that celebrated the victories and records and cherished the athletes, and the officials, fans, and volunteers who came together and made it all happen.

Runners at Hayward Field in the 1970s
Chapa competes at Hayward Field in 1977
Photo Credit: special collections and university archives, UO libraries

Over the years, world-class athletes from around the globe have come to compete in Eugene at the yearly Prefontaine Classic. However, although the Pre meet is one of the best and most widely broadcast meets in the world, its viewership has been limited to track-and-field fans. Now, after all these years, the whole world will come to Eugene and be able to appreciate just how magical it all is: Hayward Field, the university, the community, and the majestic beauty that is Oregon.

It is hard to overstate the impact and reach of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 and the visibility it will bring to our wonderful university and to the state. The event will be broadcast in more than two hundred nations—the second most-watched sporting event of 2022, behind only the World Cup. It will have a global audience of one billion people—ten times the television audience for the Super Bowl and 250 times the population of Oregon.

Those figures may seem impressive, but I don’t think the magnitude of the event will really hit home until that first American wins a gold medal. In that moment, when they raise the flag above Hayward and play the national anthem in front of a full and emotional stadium, tears will flow, hearts will swell, and that’s when it will really hit home. And the magic of Hayward is such that it will strike its own special chord for the new fan and lifelong diehard alike.
 

Hayward Field in the 1980s
West grandstand during a 1989 meet
Photo Credit: special collections and university archives, UO libraries

Hayward belongs to all of us, but that magical spot at 15th and Agate didn’t just happen—it was created by the thousands of people who have volunteered, cheered, and competed around that hallowed oval for more than a century. And soon it will be showtime, when Hayward Field and the great state of Oregon will be on center stage for the world to watch.

Rudy Chapa
Chapa is a member of Oregon’s 1977 national champion cross-country team
Photo Credit: Charlie Litchfield, University Communications

For a lot of those folks who helped build Hayward, there is a bittersweet feeling that it won’t be the old, familiar Hayward Field that welcomes the world. I know it would have done a wonderful job hosting the event. However, the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 are about the future—and we have an incredible new stadium to usher in a new era of “Hayward Magic.” In many ways, after more than two long years of a pandemic, the soaring beauty of the new Hayward might be the perfect metaphor for the joy we all feel in being able to gather once again to cheer and celebrate the inspiring athletes who strive to push beyond the limits.

A few years ago, I watched a TED Talk by a Smithsonian Museum director who was discussing the art of interviewing people. His favorite subjects were greatly accomplished people who were in their eighties and nineties because, he said, “they say the most amazing things when they know how the story turned out.”

Joaquin Chapa with his daughter at Hayward Field for the 2018 Olympic Trials
Chapa’s son Joaquin and granddaughter Canela felt the new energy at Hayward Field last summer during the US Olympic Trials
Photo Credit: Arianna Lambie (father daughter)

This May, the company Phil Knight founded with Bowerman, his Oregon coach, turned fifty years old. Knight, now in his eighties, mostly knows how “his” story has turned out. In fact, he wrote a pretty good book about it. In Shoe Dog, he talks about how the spirit that powered Nike started at Hayward Field and the University of Oregon. In a CBS interview in the stands at Hayward, Phil said, “I can get pretty emotional about this place, too, I mean after all I was born here.” The truth is his story isn’t quite complete yet—there is an exciting chapter that is about to be written.

In large part, it’s through Phil Knight’s generosity and vision that these championships will be held in Oregon. Like Phil, and so many others, I can’t wait for the world to see this splendid new stadium and discover our beautiful state, our wonderful university, and the community that makes this all possible. While it’s been a long time coming, this isn’t the end of any story. In truth, it’s just the beginning.

In 2018, the UO asked me to write an article about what Hayward Field means to me. I closed that article by saying that what mattered most was not my old memories, but what the new stadium will mean to the next generation of track fans—kids like my then two-year-old granddaughter. Well, last summer my son Joaquin was able to bring Canela, now age five, to the Olympic Trials for her first Hayward Field meet. They had a wonderful time, and he told me that on the way home, she said, “This was the greatest day I ever had!” In July, the whole world will get to experience that same magic. I can’t wait.


Rudy Chapa, BA ’81 (management), served as a UO trustee from 2013 to 2018. He was a six-time All American in cross country and track and a member of Oregon’s 1977 national champion cross-country team.