2016 Pac-12 Track & Field Championships: Pacific Northwest fosters track & field talent
SEATTLE -- There’s something in the water in the Pacific Northwest. From Steve Prefontaine, to Bill Bowerman’s waffle shoe, to track and field legend Bernard Lagat’s years at Washington State University, it is no secret that some of the best runners in the world flock to Oregon and Washington to train collegiately and beyond.
This year, the Pac-12 Championships will be held at one of the universities in the mecca of track and field that is the PNW. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the purple lanes of Husky Track will fill with dozens of Pac-12 athletes vying for both individual and team conference titles.
Already home to the competitive indoor meet the Dempsey Invitational, University of Washington head coach Greg Metcalf knows the Dawgs are the ones for the job of putting on one of the top conference track and field meets in the country.
“What we’ve been able to do here has been able to give our fans and alumni a chance to watch athletes run fast, jump high and throw far,” says Metcalf. “That’s our goal: To showcase our program and our sport.”
For Metcalf, showcasing the track and field program at the University of Washington hits especially close to home. He was an All-American distance runner for the Huskies from 1990 to 1993.
Long before Metcalf’s years at Washington, the Huskies began their track and field legacy. The first Husky Olympian was track and field athlete, sprinter J. Ira Courtney. Additionally, the first Husky Olympic medalist was a track and field athlete as well: discus thrower August “Gus” Pope.
These stories of track and field legends choosing to live and train in the Pacific Northwest stemming from the early 1900s are not uncommon. The Huskies’ rival and fellow Pac-12 member Washington State University was the collegiate home of Kenyan-American distance runner Bernard Lagat, who is a two-time Olympic medalist and still competes at an elite level today at 41 years old.
Heading to the other state making up the region, Oregon is home to historic Hayward Field, World-Record holder Ashton Eaton, and a little brand called Nike. Even the city that holds the University of Oregon, Eugene, is known as TrackTown, USA.
What is it about the Pacific Northwest that created the foundation for a culture enticing to track and field athletes so long ago? Is it the hundreds of miles of secluded trails winding through the trees that make for ideal running? Or the temperate climate that makes training year-round possible?
Whatever it is, the region has attracted and produced some of the best track and field athletes in history. The Pacific Northwest legends established a legacy, and today’s athletes continue it. The Oregon women’s 4x100m relay team owns the third-fastest time in the entire world this year. Washington’s Izaic Yorks ran the fastest 1500m in the NCAA so far this season. Oregon State University has one of the best discus throwers in the conference. Washington State University junior CJ Allen is the fifth best 400m hurdler in the NCAA this year.
“In the Northwest, the sport of track and field plays a big role,” says Metcalf, “and I’m in awe when I look at the athletes in this conference. We’re excited to host a meet to showcase that.”
Additionally, Metcalf plans to pay homage to the greats of Washington track and field by welcoming them back to present awards.
As the Pac-12 Conference Championships head north this weekend, look for athletes to embrace the prominent track and field culture of the Pacific Northwest as they run fast, jump high and throw far for their shot at the conference banner.