Olympics

Capital gets 2017 track-field championships, eyes ’20 Olympic Trials

Dawn Harper-Nelson wins the women’s 100-meter hurdles final with a time of 12.55 seconds during the USATF Championships at Sacramento State on Saturday June 28, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif. Jasmin Stowers, right, finished fourth in 12.78.
Dawn Harper-Nelson wins the women’s 100-meter hurdles final with a time of 12.55 seconds during the USATF Championships at Sacramento State on Saturday June 28, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif. Jasmin Stowers, right, finished fourth in 12.78. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Sacramento is once again solidifying its place as one of the nation’s premiere cities for track and field. But there’s still one more prize local sports officials are after.

The day after receiving word that Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium will host the USA Track and Field Championships next year, Sacramento Sports Commission director Mike Sophia said Wednesday that the city will bid on the 2020 Olympic Trials. Sacramento hosted the trials in 2000 and 2004, and drew record-breaking crowds of more than 20,000 spectators a day.

The Olympic Trials are being held this week at century-old Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., which also hosted the event in 2012 and 2008. In addition to Hayward’s position as one of the nation’s most historic track venues, Oregon-based Nike is the primary long-term sponsor of USA Track and Field and maintains a large corporate presence at the trials.

“We recognize that it’s been there for the last few trials and we recognize it’s going to be a tough sell,” Sophia said. “But we absolutely are trying to position ourselves to be a strong player in that conversation. I like our history and we’re going to make a run at it.”

The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and the sports commission spent $1.2 million in 2013 on a new track surface at Hornet Stadium. The work was funded by an assessment local hotels pay every year to support tourism and marketing.

When they announced the project, city sports officials also revealed they had secured the 2014 USA Track and Field Championships. Sophia said sports officials were fairly certain they would host the event again in 2017 after posting strong attendance and revenue numbers in 2014.

But even as early as 2013, Sophia had the Olympic Trials on his mind. When the track resurfacing project was approved, he said he wrote “2020 vision” on a piece of paper – a reference to his goal of landing the 2020 trials.

Scott Abbott, executive director of the Sacramento Running Association, said several factors make Sacramento a viable option to host an Olympic trials and other major events. Warm days are ideal for sprint and field events, and the region’s mild evenings are perfect for distance running. The city has more major hotels and better transportation infrastructure than smaller markets such as Eugene, and the refurbished Hornet Stadium is “world class,” he said.

“Any time you’re going up against Eugene it’s a challenge,” Abbott said. “But it’s important to bring the sport to other venues, otherwise it potentially can live and die in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. I think it’s important for USA Track and Field to explore other options.”

In the meantime, Sophia and tourism officials are touting the impact of Sacramento’s re-emergence on the national track and field stage. The 2014 national championships drew more than 30,000 spectators over four days and had an economic impact of $4.6 million on the region in the form of hotel rooms and meals purchased by out-of-town visitors, according to Sophia.

The 2017 meet is expected to draw larger crowds than three years ago, as the nation’s top athletes try to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in London less than two months later. Some elite athletes avoided the 2014 meet with no World Championships spots on the line.

Sophia said the 2017 economic impact will be well above $5 million.

And later this month, Hornet Stadium will host the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics. More than 7,000 athletes are expected for that meet and the event will contribute more than $10 million to the local economy, Sophia said.

USA Track and Field CEO Max Siegel said in a statement that “Sacramento has a long history of hosting premier track meets, as well as cultivating a strong track and field culture.”

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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