I recently returned from ten days at the World Athletics Championship held at the University of Oregon’s renovated Hayward Field. For track and field enthusiasts, like me, this was a cornucopian feast. For the first time, the championship was held in the United States and thanks to philanthropy, the legendary Hayward Field was transformed into an athletic mecca of technical wizardry. Our fears of traffic jams and long entry queues were abated on day one due to excellent public transportation, nearby parking, and electronic ticketing. For a mid-sized city, Eugene did a remarkable feat hosting the championship. I foresee many more world-class athletic events returning to Track Town, USA.
I purchased tickets a year ago on the first day of public sales. At the first hour that online ticket sales began, I opened the ticketing website and tried to purchase a package for all events. Unfortunately, the website only allowed single event purchases and the site was so slow that I gave up after an hour. I called ticket sales, and they were able to book good seats for all events. When their email arrived, I could not find the seats listed in the stadium map, so I notified the ticket office. They promptly corrected the error. Once physically in the stadium, we realized that the majority of our seats were less than 10 meters from the finish line. We had ring-side seats and witnessed the world’s best athletes competing.
While most of the nation sweltered, Eugene’s weather was dry and comfortable, except for a few early afternoons when the temperature rose to 90F. The women’s 5k preliminary event was held at 5pm on the warmest afternoon. The contestants ran a slow race and a Japanese runner had to be wheelchaired off the track. This race should have been rescheduled to a cooler hour.
Our afternoon seats were in the shade which made for pleasant viewing. However, even with the cooler mornings, the sun shone directly on us which forced us to apply sunscreen and wear clothing that covered our arms and legs. Had we known the sun’s positioning within the stadium, we might have decided to purchase morning tickets on the other side of the stadium, although we would not have been as close to the finish line during the sprint races.
The spectators were enthusiastic and friendly. It was an international crowd since there were 179 countries participating in this championship. Spectators brought their country’s flag to events to give to the medal winners. Many fans wore national clothing colors and symbols. When a competitor name was announced prior to the event, fans would cheer and shout encouragement.
Before the starting gun was fired, the stadium became quiet. But during the competition, the stadium would roar as the athletes ran past. Towards the end, the spectators would rise to their feet, clapping and shouting encouragement. Once the winner passed the finish line, fans then turned toward the giant screens to see the official results. As the names came on the screen, clapping and shouts would start again. My wife, who doesn’t follow athletics, told me that she enjoyed the events and was never bored because multiple events were happening at the same time. The time just flew by, like the runners who competed before us.
I witnessed so much kindness and good sportsmanship during our ten days in Eugene. At the end of competitions, athletes hugged each another and helped weary competitors get up after collapsing. During post-event interviews, winners spoke of family and teammate support during their periods of training. We sat next to the family of Devon Allen, a University of Oregon football and 110M hurdles athlete who made the finals only to be eliminated by a 1/1000th second false start. He had placed 4th at both the Olympics and Worlds only to miss his chance at a medal once again. His father died unexpectantly on the eve of the US Nationals, yet he still won a spot on the US team. Even after such a devastating loss, he was upbeat during his post-event interview.
My only disappointment was a comment made by Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Norway), the Tokyo 1500M gold medalist and gold medalist in the 5k race during the final day of this competition. After trailing for 10 laps, he took the lead with 2.5 laps to go and was never overtaken. The race featured the world’s finest distance runners: Olympic medalists, the 5k world record holder, and former world champions. Jakob pounded his chest upon winning and spoke to a stadium reporter. “I didn’t want a sprint finish because then some people would have said that it was a coincidence, it was a tactical race. But today was not a tactical race. I just won it because I was the better runner.”
Yes, that day Jakob was the best 5k runner in the world. He earned his gold medal by winning the race. However, there were many other runners who have achieved greatness and faster times before this race. Humility starts with viewing the world around you and realizing that you are not alone, and your gifts come from God to be used in service. Acknowledging the giver of gifts and the gifts of others breeds humility, even when you stand on the highest podium.