Photo by Photorun.net.
In this picture, Phil Knight (right) and Vinn Lannana (left) are pictured, above the start of the 100 meters. It is an appropriate picture and a life lesson for our sport. Thanks to the philanthropy of Phil Knight, the management of Vinn Lannana, and the passion of Alberto Salazar and other former Ducks, Oregon Track & Field has been reborn.
Before it was reborn, the man who kept it alive was Tom Jordan, who managed the Nike Pre Classic for the past thirty plus years. It was a decade ago when the questions started getting asked about how to put the Ducks back on the map. John Capriotti, aka Cap, has fought long and hard to keep that meet in his budget and bring in athletes. Before Cap, others at Nike, who understood that the soul of the brand is inextricably tied to athletics, fought constantly to keep the sport from being an also ran.
This battle for our sport happened at all other brands too, from adidas and ASICS, to Brooks and Saucony, where many brands have learnt that their support of local meets, local schools, a local running club is not just good acts, but good for their business. It also happened in agents and managers working to professionalize their athletes as the react to media, in how athletes present themselves–all of this has come about because the stakeholders in our sport knew that change was needed or the sport would wither and die.
Bringing in Vinn Lannana and his team to Oregon was key. Vinn knows how to rebuild a program, take a look at what he did at Stanford. Lannana also knows how to cultivate and manage true team of professionals, who can put on meets in their sleep, and who, in 2008, put on the best Olympic Trials that I have ever witnessed.
Phil Knight, as Chairman of Nike, Inc., created a colossus that has it’s fingers in every sports pie, but his love, and money has rebuilt this stadium, will help build the new indoor facility rumored, and has brought a feeling back to Eugene that it is TrackTown USA.
In spite of the local economic woes, in spite of the layoffs of 1700 at Nike (many of the recently laid off are hanging out here, as while shoes were their vocation, track is the avocation), the 2009 USA Champs are a strong success.
Alberto Salazar noted to the media the other day, ” My goals were to help bring the Duck’s legacy back, and to improve the fortunes of US distance running.” The Oregon project has improved the the fortunes of US distance running, the rebirth of Hayward and the Ducks’ team has also made those dreams a reality.
My fear? Now that we have Pre Classic, Ducks, Oregon Project, Reebok GP, some things going well, that our successes get taken for granted. The sport has so much to offer, in terms of fitness, true life lessons and just the joy of watching someone run, jump or throw at a level most of us can merely dream of–athleticism, to paraphrase the great modern dancer, Martha Graham, makes us all angels and closer to a higher being.
Our sport is a life endeavor for many, from athletes, to coaches, to officials, to the fans who watch our meets, to sponsors, let’s not screw it up. We are on the way, and thanks to Phil Knight, Vinn Lannana, Alberto Salazar, Tom Jordan, and many, many, others, who have shown in Eugene, how it could work. Let’s not screw it up.
For more on the sport, click