TrackTown Summer Series Debuts! by Lindsay Rossmiller

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Andrews-BlankenshipR-USOlyTr16.jpGRobbie Andrews, Ben Blankenship, photo by PhotoRun.net

Robbie Andrews and Ben Blankenship were among the athletes who came back to Eugene for the first Tracktown Summer Series on Friday, July 29, 2016. Here is our story from Lindsay Rossmiller, who has been writing prodigiously for RunBlogRun at the World Indoors, US Olympic Trials and Tracktown Summer series.

By: Lindsay Rossmiller

EUGENE, Ore. - On Friday evening, the organizers of Tracktown USA debuted the first of their attempts to create a summer series for track and field and extend the U.S. season with an opportunity for athletes to continue competing at home.

The inaugural Tracktown Summer Series drew a crowd of 3,045 to Hayward Field on a 95 degree evening and featured coverage on ESPN. The athletes were very enthusiastic because it was such a different experience for many of them.

Instead of competing individually, the 144 athletes competed in teams representing four cities - New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Portland.

Omar Craddock competed in the triple jump for Team San Francisco. Kids lined the runway toward the pit and each time Craddock jumped, he would leap up from the pit and high five all of them down the line.

"This is the most fun I've had at a meet since I was in high school," said Craddock, who was runner-up in the triple jump with 17.42 meters.

His former college teammate turned Team Portland rival, Will Claye, enjoyed the opportunity to give the fans and kids an up-close look at what he actually does.

"They were completely amazed, they were like, 'You can fly!'" said Claye. "It would be like if I got to sit on the field watching Deion Sanders as a kid. That would've been crazy, but they get to do it. I wish I was in their shoes when I was a kid."

Both were pleased about the opportunity to compete in a meet with more fan interaction in the U.S. and believed that the team aspect added to the entertainment value for the sport.

"America wants to feel involved. Every sport that you watch in America is a team event and everyone in America wants to feel like they can be part of a team so you know, if I'm someone's favorite jumper, they're going to cheer for me and they're going to cheer for Team San Francisco so that just makes it a lot better," said Craddock.

His Team San Francisco teammate, Jacquelyn Coward won the 100 hurdles in 12.68 seconds. She also really enjoyed the atmosphere of the meet.

"Since we got here, the teams have been going back and forth about who's going to win and whatnot," said Coward. "I like how this track meet is more laidback, you know, you get to come to the meet and just chill and not be so serious all the time so that's what we all did - came to the meet and just chilled and had fun."

"There's been a lot of trash talk," said Claye. "Some of my training partners are on other teams so I want to say good luck, but then I'm like, 'nah, you're on the other team.'"

They met their teams officially the evening prior and all confessed that it was when the team pride and trash talking began. They wore team shirts representing their cities and their bibs were color coded by their teams so spectators could follow.

All athletes received compensation, travel stipends and housing for their participation. In addition, those who were selected in the draft on June 25 received bonuses based on which round they were selected, event winners received bonuses, and each member of the winning team, Team San Francisco, received an additional $1,000.

Claye, who won the triple jump in 17.52 meters for Team Portland, saw the television exposure as another bonus.

"This is probably one of the funnest meets I've ever been to," said Claye. The concept of it is fun and the fact that we get to be on ESPN, the best sports channel in the world, is just great."

Claye sees it fitting in with the larger picture of growing the sport in the U.S.

"I think the U.S. needs it. We need a track and field league," said Claye. "We need to be seen as professional track athletes and not amateurs so this is great for us."

Future plans include creating an actual league with meets around the U.S. where athletes would compete for their cities and then come together for the championship, much like the Diamond League except with teams.

Team Philadelphia's Brenda Martinez (second in the 800 at 1:59.82) appreciated the logic of having the meet. It fit well into her schedule in between the Trials and traveling to Rio where she will compete in the 1500.

"I hope there can be more of these that pop up in the U.S. that don't require a lot of us to travel and spend a lot more money just to go to Europe. You can't guarantee to get a fast time if you're not used to the travel so staying home just makes sense," said Martinez.

"These are Diamond League caliber, world championship medalists here so if we can get them in one place here, that's amazing," said Martinez.

Prior to the combined men's and women's shot put, two-time Olympian Jillian Camarena-Williams pushed a stroller across the track and onto the infield with her two-year-old daughter Miley inside. Miley joined the group of spectators on the infield as her mom got second in the shot put (18.27) for Team Philadelphia.

"How often do you get to bring her on the field with you? Never. And she was really good too so that was a bonus," laughed Camarena-Williams after.

"It was really fun. It was just the environment was fun, the people that were there were fun, having her out there was just a blast. I could hear her yelling, 'Mommy!'" said Camarena-Williams. "It was a lot of fun and that's the way I should go out."

"I knew that it was my last year, so I could have just ended at Trials, but to be here in this environment and end that way was way better."

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