Sacramento named finalist to host 2020 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials

Kate Grace wins the during the women’s 800-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on July 4, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. Sacramento is a finalist to host the event in 2020.
Kate Grace wins the during the women’s 800-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on July 4, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. Sacramento is a finalist to host the event in 2020. Associated Press file

Before hosting one of the nation’s premier track and field meets next month, Sacramento will make its final push to land an even loftier prize.

USA Track and Field announced Tuesday that Sacramento is one of three cities in consideration to host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Sacramento hosted the trials in 2000 and 2004 and set attendance records by drawing more than 20,000 spectators a day to Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.

It would have to wrest the event away from Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., which has hosted the last three trials and will be the site of the 2021 IAAF World Outdoor Championships. Walnut, the home of Mt. San Antonio College, is the third finalist.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Sacramento Sports Commission director Mike Sophia said the city submitted its preliminary bid to host the trials early this month and will host USA track officials June 1 for a formal site visit. Sacramento will then submit its final bid June 16.

Sophia said the bid will highlight Sacramento’s history of track and field, “commitment to the athlete experience” and “accessibility and variety of hospitality options.”

“We also mention the weather,” he said.

The 2020 host city will be named no later than mid-July, according to the USATF website. But Sophia said a decision could come as early as next month, when Sacramento hosts the USATF Outdoor Championships from June 22-25 at Hornet Stadium.

The stadium’s track received a $1.2 million upgrade in 2013, paid for by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and the sports commission. Even then, officials said, they had an eye on 2020.

“The goal was to ultimately bring back the Olympic Track and Field Trials,” said Mike Testa, chief operating officer of Visit Sacramento. “And we’re certainly on the path to do that as a finalist.”

Hornet Stadium’s track was the subject of a lawsuit filed in March by Sacramento State against Mondo USA Inc., alleging that areas of fading and staining had appeared within months of the track’s completion in May 2014.

But the stadium has since hosted the 2014 USATF Championships and the 2016 USATF Junior Olympics, and Sophia said he does not think the lawsuit will have an effect on the city’s bid to host the Trials.

“None at all,” Sophia said. “It’s an issue relative to the color (of the track) and what was ordered and what was paid for. So that’s what the discussion and dispute is about. The quality and performance of it has nothing to do with the lawsuit.”

Eugene could be facing questions about its own facility. Hayward Field is set to undergo renovations in preparation the 2021 World Championships. But the project, originally scheduled to start last year, has not begun and could be pushed back to this fall, according to the Eugene Register-Guard, narrowing the window before the 2020 Trials.

With a culture that celebrates track and field and the presence of USATF-sponsor Nike in nearby Beaverton, Eugene has been a successful host for the past three trials. But a mix of officials and athletes at Tuesday’s press conference touted Sacramento as just as viable, pointing to attendance numbers in 2000 and 2004, opportunities for fan experience away from the track and the climate.

“I think the weather is a big factor,” said Kim Conley, two-time Olympian and UC Davis graduate. “It cools down in the evening but (there’s) the heat of the day. Whether you’re a distance athlete or a sprinter or thrower who prefers warmer conditions, I think it kind of serves everybody.”

While the 2014 USATF Championships drew more than 30,000 spectators in Sacramento over four days, next month’s event is expected to bring larger crowds as athletes compete for berths at the 2017 World Championships in London.

The meet field features many U.S. medalists from the 2016 Rio Olympics, including gold medalists Allyson Felix (200 meters), LaShawn Merritt (400m), Matt Centrowitz (1,500m), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Michelle Carter (shot put) and Tianna Bartoletta (long jump).