HOUSTON – Tracy Sundlun’s promotional visions have always stretched far beyond normal horizons.
He’s the man who did all kinds of innovative things in his years running the MAC (Metropolitan Athletics Congress of New York) in the pre-USA Track and Fielddays. (A steady stream of Armory meets, New York vs. Boston dual meets, etc., etc.)
He’s the man who once got his father (Bruce Sundlun, then governor of Rhode Island) to twist the arm of another then-governor (Hugh Carey of New York), opening a Syracuse facility to the National Scholastic Indoor
Track and Field Championships when a monstrous blizzard threatened to lock out/leave high and dry the entire cast of thousands.
A fan – and deep appreciator – of racewalking when few others in the mainstream of track and field give a hoot – he’s the man who brought the IAAF’s World Cup of Walking to New York in 1987 and made it a smash success in Central Park.
Forever an innovator, he saw the need to set a huge new, jazzed-up, circuit of road racing in motion and thus helped elevate the Rock ‘N Roll Series of races around the nation – and beyond – to smash success status.
And now he’s doing it all over again – again in the realm of racewalking.
With the USA Olympic Trials booked for Eugene early next July, meet organizers fretted over the staging of the two 20-kilometer racewalks, one for men, one for women.
Stage them both on the Hayward Field track as 50-lappers? Most of the walkers nixed the notion. Use the adjacent Agate Street one-kilometer road loop? Virtually impossible, because the street will be occupied by security zones and festivity tents.
Move them somewhere else in Eugene, say outside Autzen Stadium, home of the U. of Oregon football Ducks?
No way, bad call, again said the walkers.
So enter – stage left – Mr. Tracy Sundlun, with a solution that’s instantaneously innovative, ingenious and totally out of the box.
After all, the 2012 Olympic Trials had staged the men’s and women’s hammer throw events as “out of the box” prelude events at a specially created throwers’ zone on the Nike corporate campus in Beaverton, just outside Portland.
After all, the 2014 USA Track Nationals in Sacramento had gone “out of the box” to stage the men’s and women’s shot put events at a special venue plunked down in front of the California state capitol building.
Well, folks, Tracy & Co. are going “out of the box” yet again.
To Salem, the Oregon state capitol, some 60 miles to the North of Eugene.
The very good news coming out of Racewalking Committee meetings at the USATF Annual Meeting was that the two racewalking events set for next summer’s Olympic Trials would not be treated with the usual disdain, would not be considered “afterthoughts” to a meet committee morÃ© concerned with “the real events” of the trials, would now be going fully mainstream, and a whole lot more.
To be precise, in the mid-day hours of Thursday, June 30, 2016, a day before the balance of the “real Trials” opened at Hayward Field.
A one-kilometer road loop would be measured out on the roadway directly fronting the Capitol building. The walkers – men first, likely hearing the starting gun at 11 a.m., with the women following a minute or so later – would proceed on their rounds.
Hopefully, they’d be cheered on by state workers coming and going to their offices, by other folks attracted to the kind of Olympic Trials event they’d only known in Eugene, and always by the throngs lured to the innovative venue by promises of festivity and five-ringed fervor.
And did we tell you that cheerleaders and bands and teams of schoolkids
(signed up in the “adopt a walker” program) would be out there, too, rousing it all up, exhorting all the walkers to “faster-faster-faster performances as they duked it out on this very special “Road to Rio.”
Salem isn’t “Tracktown USA” – which is Eugene – but this is going to be win-win for the Capitol city.
The “Tracktown USA” entity would still do most of the heavy lifting in getting this event done, but the cooperation of USATF, its Racewalking Committee members, and all enthusiasts of the pedestrian arts would be needed to make this event the big winner it is now expected to be.
Always the visionary, Sundlun looks ahead to seeing photos of the walkers, framed by the backdrop of the iconic capitol building, on the front pages of newspapers everywhere, and as lead-off Items on network news programs around the land.
“It will be an absolutely spectacular sports competition,” promised Sundlun.
“It will provide very special photo ops.
“It’s what we need to light this area up.”
Bottom-lined Ray Funkhouser, the former USA racewalk champion and
National Team member, now “putting back” into the sport as a National
Racewalking Committee member, “the whole thing can be unbelievable.”