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Classic a Trial run.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

More than 13,000 spectators filled the stands at Hayward Field last Sunday for the Prefontaine Classic track meet. So it wasn't too much of a stretch to imagine the daily crowds of 15,000 who are expected to gather there next summer for the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.

NBC broadcast the Pre Classic to about 1 million viewers, providing the network with something of a dry run before it covers the Trials next year.

Media representatives from USA Track & Field and the U.S. Olympic Committee were in town for the weekend, too, and did a site visit in preparation for the Trials, said Tom Jordan, who has directed the Pre Classic for 24 years.

The Pre Classic provided a brief glimpse of things to come. But amp up everything for the Trials, observers say: more spectators, more athletes, more officials, more coaches, more media.

And more money. The Trials will generate almost $18 million in economic impact, compared with $1.5 million for the Pre Classic, estimates the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County Oregon.

Those figures are the association's best guess of how much out-of-towners attending those events spend on hotels, restaurants, and other shopping and entertainment.

The main reason for the difference in economic impact is that the Pre Classic is just one day of competition, while the Trials will spread eight days of competition over a 10-day period

The Trials also have "a different drama" than the Pre Classic, said Vin Lananna, director of track and field at the University of Oregon, and co-chair of the local organizing committee. "You're watching a very different story unfold."

The Pre Classic is a high-level world championship focused on performance, in terms of distances and times, Lananna said.

"The Olympic Trials is about the top three," he said. "There's a tremendous amount at stake because if you don't finish in the top three, you unfortunately don't go to the Olympic games."

The Pre Classic attracted more than 200 athletes from around the world and more than 100 media representatives, Jordan said. The Trials will have about 1,200 athletes from the United States vying to compete in the Olympics in Beijing and about 1,200 members of the media, organizers estimate.

Hayward Field will be the epicenter of activity during the Trials, scheduled for June 27 through July 6, 2008. Local organizers hope to create a festival-like zone near the field, with live music before each day's competition, food and fitness vendors, and an area with a large-screen TV where thousands more people can watch the events - no ticket required.

The impact of the Pre Classic and the Trials is far greater than the dollars they pump into the community, said Lisa Lawton, the association's community relations director.

Events like these that are publicized around the world help viewers and readers form an image of Eugene.

"With the NBC coverage of this event, coupled with the fact that we're preparing to host the Olympic Trials, I think the visibility and exposure for Eugene has really reached a new level," Lawton said.

Reuters, an international news service, also was in town covering the Pre Classic and developing stories related to the Trials, Lawton said.

NBC's broadcast of the Pre Classic made frequent references to Eugene.

Announcer Tom Hammond called Hayward Field "one of the great track venues in all the world" and referred to Eugene as "Track Town U.S.A."

In a brief report about the $7.4 million renovation now under way at Hayward Field to gear up for the Trials, NBC sportscaster Bob Neumeier said the project was "appropriate here in Eugene because in Eugene they love their track and field - kind of like baseball having their all-star game at Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago."

NBC producer Rob Hyland said the broadcast made plenty of references to Eugene because "Eugene is such a mecca for running, and especially distance running, so our announcers wanted to make sure the people watching knew that."

Echoing what many have said about historic Hayward Field, Hyland said, "there's definitely an energy because every single person - all 13,000 - knows who they're watching and the events they're seeing. ... You see a guy like (Chinese hurdler) Liu Xiang doing a victory lap and high-fiving people in the crowd as if he's a rock star. ... It's a great crowd - a great town."

Media representatives from USA Track & Field and the U.S. Olympic Committee, whose job it will be to take care of the 1,200 journalists expected at the Trials, were hashing out details, such as how members of the media will access athletes coming off the track for interviews.

"It's fair to call the Prefontaine Classic kind of a microcosm of the Olympic Trials," said Jill Geer, director of communications for USA Track & Field. "But you have to multiply it by almost a factor of 10 when it comes to the press."
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Title Annotation:Business; Eugene gets a fleet-footed glance of a much bigger show to come
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 17, 2007
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