The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Olympic Tracks Must Be Preserved

Jan 17th, 2011
9:07 am PDT

london-2012-olympic-park-progress

There is a  discussion on the table as to what will happen to London’s new Olympic track once the games are over. Apparently a soccer league wants to take over the facility, tear it down and rebuild it without the track – and that is drawing criticism from some corners. As well it should in my opinion.

The Olympic Stadium is the focal point of the Games themselves. Although it doesn’t seem like it during the three years between Games, track and field IS the heart of the Games. So it would seem that somehow the Games – the Olympic movement – should play a role in advancing the state of track and field across the globe. To that end, I think that the biggest gift it can give the sport is the track and stadium that is built to host the Games.  A legacy that would continue on long after the the flame of the Games has been extinguished.

Look no further than here in the United States and the lack of a legacy from the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Atlanta had a fine stadium – and a track that was clearly built for speed. Two meets – one prior to the Games and the Games themselves – produced some of the greatest sprint marks ever seen to that point in time. Then it was all taken away. No one else got to take advantage of that blistering surface. A travesty for the world’s sprinters – though I’m sure the distance runners didn’t mind.

More importantly it deprived us, the United States, from furthering the cause of track and field in this country. Had we retained the stadium/track, we would have had a facility to use as the heart of a bid for the World Championships. Creating the likelihood that a Worlds would have been held here in the US by now. We would also have had a facility in place for another Olympic Games bid – as well as all the accoutrements for an Olympic village.

We also would have a proper place to hold other events such as the Olympic Trials, National Championships, NCAA Championships, and perhaps even a Diamond League type event. And that is where I think the IAAF should come in.

I think that the IAAF should create a plan with the IOC whereby Olympic stadiums have some connection to the IAAF and the sport of track and field. For example, while soccer may be given a lease to the London stadium, the track should be retained. In turn the IAAF should work with the London organizers on developing some sort of competition schedule involving the track and stadium.

Going back to Atlanta and the ‘96 stadium, if that had been done the IOC and IAAF could have helped find a tenant for the stadium. Then worked with USATF on a timeline to use the stadium for a Worlds bid, as well as putting the stadium into a rotation for Trials and Nationals competitions. They could also put the stadium onto the annual competition calendar. Because I think as each Olympics is complete that city should begin to host annual world class events. The Games can be used as a stepping stone to bring track and field regularly to that portion of the world – so the stadium isn’t simply a visual reminder that the Games was once there. For example, when Rio comes and goes in 2016 beginning in 2017 there would be a world class event in Rio every year. You could even develop and “Olympic Circuit” over time that would consist entirely of former Olympic sites.

My point is that Olympic stadiums can, and should, have a purpose outside of just the Games themselves. There is a tremendous expense that goes into the development of them and they should be used to give back to the movement and to sport – especially the sport for which it was designed. London could very easily be used to host Worlds at some point and they already have a world class meet that could easily be moved into the stadium. The IAAF should take a lead roll in working with the IOC on this matter and future matters regarding the use of Olympic stadiums once the flame has gone out. They should start with London.

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