Americans had a historic showing at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in 1968, and nothing was more unique or picturesque than the high-altitude venue at Echo Summit on an oval carved out of the El Dorado National Forest.
Viewers momentarily lost sight of runners on one curve behind majestic pines, and it wasn't uncommon for a javelin or other objects to seemingly come out of nowhere because of those trees. World records fell in the 200 and 400 meters, 400 hurdles and pole vault, more than national championship in the 44 years since. Members of that 1968 group will make a “Return to the Summit” today at 10:30 a.m. Legendary sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos will join former USA teammates at Sacramento State tonight at 7 p.m. to be recognized during the USA Track & Field Championships.
The men's team selected from those trials is regarded as one of the best in Olympic history, with Americans winning 12 gold medals and setting six world records in 1968 Mexico City Games. Those Americans included: Lee Evans, Bob Seagren, Dick Fosbury and Bob Beamon. Fosbury, who won gold medal in the high jump in Mexico City, called Echo Summit, "A magical place. It was a fantasy."
The scenic and serene setting at Echo Summit was a stark contrast to a tumultuous year, one that included the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and unrest across the country due to the Vietnam War and civil rights. Athletes such as Smith, Carlos and Evans demanded to be heard on the race issues as leaders of the "Olympic Project for Human Rights." They were under tremendous pressure to participate in an Olympic boycott, and the black-glove covered fists of Smith and Carlos on the medal stand remain as one of American sports enduring images.
Echo Summit’s elevation of 7,377 feet was just 28 feet higher than Mexico City and prepared the Americans to compete in such thin-air climate. The U.S. Forest Service agreed to allow a track to be placed as long as it had minimal effect on the environment. Last summer, the State Historical Commission agreed to make Echo Summit a California Historical Landmark, and a plaque was recently placed on a granite boulder just off Highway 50. The paved outline of a track can still be seen at Echo Summit.
The only other sports sites designated as California Historical Landmarks are the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Long Beach Marine Stadium, Squaw Valley Ski Area and the Pioneer Ski Area in Johnsville.
Vaulting dreams – The women's pole vault finals today at 5:50 p.m. will include 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr. She upset world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva to win the gold at the London Games and is the American record holder at 16 feet, 5-1/2 inches. Stacy Dragila of Placer High School, a pioneer in the sport and one-time world record holder, will be on hand. The pole vault official will be Sacramento City Manager John Shirey, who served in the same role in the 2004 Olympic Trials at Sac State.
Triple pleasure – The men's triple jump finals today could come down to rivals Christian Taylor, the 2012 Olympic champion, and Will Claye, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist who has had the upper hand on his former Florida Gators teammate. Said Claye, "It's always fun when we go at it. Great things happen."
Golden chance – The Golden West Invitational, the nation's premiere high school meet first held in 1960, has been a Who's Who of track and field legends, including Jim Ryun, Steve Prefontaine, Evelyn Ashford, Michael Carter, Willie Banks, John Godina, Dragila, Marion Jones, Allyson Felix and Michelle Carter. In conjunction with the USA meet, the 55th GWI will be held Saturday from 3:30-9 pm. at Hornet Stadiun.
Held in Sacramento since 1965 (last year in Berkeley), the GWI has a remarkable legacy. GWI participants have represented the USA in every Olympic Games since 1964 with more than 90 medals, including 48 gold.
Local entries include Jazmine Smith of Elk Grove (100 meters) and Aspyn Walton and Alex Rotteveel of Woodcreek (200). Walton and Rotteveel were members of Woodcreek's 4x100 relay that won the CIF State title earlier this month in Clovis. For more information: goldenwestinvitational.org
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