As the World Athletics Championships came to a close Sunday, locals and visitors began to reflect on a big event for Eugene – for better or worse.
The international track meet brought thousands of visitors and global attention to the Willamette Valley college town, and while crowds may not have met expectations, it was still a busy 10 days for much of the city.
A short walk from Hayward Field, where the Oregon22 event took place, Christopher Smith was busy carting around two armfuls of sweatshirts and tees inside the The Flagship Campus Duck Store on the north side of the University of Oregon campus.
Smith, manager of the campus district Duck Stores, said he was winding down from what was an extraordinarily busy period at the store, where an international crowd of athletes and spectators had been streaming through for days, snapping up Oregon22-branded keychains and magnets, as well as Ducks-branded shirts and hats.
“It definitely put us through our paces,” Smith said of the event, which took over Eugene from July 15 to 24. “We aren’t used to dealing with stuff on a scale this big.”
Smith said the crowds on campus were comparable to a weekend football game – just sustained for a 10-day stretch. And while anticipated crowds may not have shown up inside the stadium or in other parts of town, he said his stores have been packed.
“Everybody who was visiting was kind, polite, here to spend money,” he said. “I’d say it was a success, and hopefully we’ll have more events like this.”
In general, the feel around Eugene was relatively relaxed. Athletes could be seen jogging across campus, while visitors toured town on rented PeaceHealth Rides bicycles, and people strolled the sidewalks in town.
Among them was Tommy Yule, head of support staff for UK Athletics, who was at Oregon22 with the team from Great Britain. As he walked into a dining hall to grab a quick bite before the day’s competitions, he took time to stop and offer his compliments to Eugene – though he admitted he hadn’t seen much of the town.
“Normally you’re in a city, staying in a hotel, you’re busing into a stadium,” Yule said. “It’s definitely been a different feel being on a campus.”
By many respects, Eugene was an odd place to hold a global track competition. The most recent hosts of the World Athletics Championships were Doha, London and Beijing. The next two hosts will be Budapest and Tokyo. With a population of 176,654, according to the 2020 census, Eugene is by far the smallest city to ever host the event – chosen primarily for its historical significance in the world of track and field.
Its selection as host city came as a surprise to Elisna de Swardt, a track and field fan from Williams Lake in British Columbia, who came down for the final weekend with her husband, Stefan, and their 6-year-old daughter, Eva.
“To be honest we thought, ‘Well, on the map Eugene looks like this little obscure place.’ It kind of boggled us: Why would such a grand event be held in such a small place?” de Swardt said. “Then when we saw the setup and the stadium, all the pieces came together.”
As far as she knew, everything in town had been running smoothly, de Swardt said. She described the town as “quaint and nice” and said the event was “incredibly well organized.” That made it easier for the family to focus on one of the primary reasons they flew down for the event: Eva, who has been finding inspiration in watching athletes at the highest level of competition.
“We’ve always wanted to watch it and we keep track of everybody on TV every year,” de Swardt said, turning to her daughter. “I think it’ll be good inspiration for her one day, just to see what it looks like in real life.”
But not everyone in town was pleased with the way the global track meet was run. Some locals expressed frustrations with the event, and a small group even took to the streets Saturday night to protest, denouncing city officials, local police and Nike.
“No one asked us, the working people of Eugene, how this would impact us or if we even wanted it,” a protest pamphlet read.
The next morning, workers were busy fluttering around the Original Pancake House, where diners flooded in ahead of the final day of competition. There, Monica Taylor was busy showing people to tables and helping out however she could.
The Junction City resident started filling in at the restaurant her brother owns back in May, when staffing was light. She said she saw steady crowds during the three-day NCAA track and field championships in June, then empty tables as the World Athletics Championships began.
“At first it was looking horrifying,” she said.
By offering so many amenities on campus, the organizers of Oregon22 left local businesses in the lurch, Taylor said. When expected crowds never materialized, workers and business owners were stuck with extra supplies and staffing they had already paid for.
“I just don’t think they promoted a lot of the business that are right down here close, the local people that have been here forever,” Taylor said of the event organizers. “I don’t feel that people knew that we were even here.”
By the middle of the week, athletes and coaches began to discover the breakfast spot, and they were busy every day as word spread. “Then it picked up,” she said.
With business back to normal by the end of the weekend, though, it was hard for her to remain too upset about the slow start. But as the city considers hosting more major events in the future, she said organizers need to keep locals in mind.
“I think they need to work with the local people that have been here a little bit more and find out what their hardships are,” Taylor said. “It’s cool, but like I said, [they] just could have been a little more empathetic to the local businesses.”
--Jamie Hale; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB