Olympics

Sacramento hosts top track and field youth athletes in Junior Olympic meet

Nikki Stephens, 17, of Seattle, Washington, competes in the women’s 17-18 division heptathlon high jump, finishing second with height of 5 feet, 5 inches on the first day of the 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships, Monday, July 25, 2016 in Sacramento.
Nikki Stephens, 17, of Seattle, Washington, competes in the women’s 17-18 division heptathlon high jump, finishing second with height of 5 feet, 5 inches on the first day of the 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships, Monday, July 25, 2016 in Sacramento. rpench@sacbee.com

As Sacramento re-establishes itself as one of the nation’s premier track and field cities, more than 7,500 top youth athletes are competing this week in the sport’s National Junior Olympic meet this week at Sacramento State.

The Sacramento Sports Commission estimates that the event will bring $10.1 million in hotel reservations, dining and tourism to the area. The commission also expects 15,000 spectators to attend the weeklong event that began Monday.

“The economic impact is pretty great for the Sacramento region,” said Sidney Scheideman, the events manager for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In the previous decade, Sacramento was a track and field powerhouse, hosting the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials, as well as four NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. But in recent years, the sport has awarded most major outdoor meets to Eugene, Ore., which has had the last three Olympic Trials and will host the 2021 IAAF World Championships.

Sacramento experienced a resurgence in 2014, hosting the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships and Junior Olympics that year. In preparation for the 2014 meets, the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Sacramento Tourism Marketing District spent more than $1 million to renovate the track at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.

Scheideman said that the investment helped bring back the Junior Olympics to Sacramento, and led to a successful bid for 2017 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships.

This week’s Junior Olympics, with athletes ranging in age from 7 to 18, coincides with a scorching heat wave. The Sacramento Sports Commission, a division of the convention bureau, is taking precautions to keep athletes and spectators safe, according to commission director Mike Sophia.

Meet sponsors are providing 25,000 bottles of water and thousands of Gatorade drinks to keep the athletes hydrated. Outdoor cooling stations and an air-conditioned indoor space will be open throughout the meet.

“It’s part of the event that it’s going to be hot … these athletes are used to it,” Sophia said.

The meet started quietly at Hornet Stadium on Monday with the multi-event heptathlon, pentathlon and decathlon competitions, while the hammer throw took place on a separate field. Most of the high-profile track events for older competitors are scheduled to begin Wednesday, following Tuesday evening’s opening ceremonies.

All of the Junior Olympics athletes had to qualify at their state and regional USA Track and Field championships.

Diane Graham-Henry, a race-walking coach from Illinois, had high praise for the Hornet Stadium track. “The visibility is fabulous all the way around the track. ... It’s very well laid out,” she said.

Having the meet at Sacramento State is particularly beneficial to local athletes. Sacramento-based Oak Hill Racing has 52 athletes entered, according to coach Chad Worthen.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to have some early exposure to elite competition,” Worthen said.

Worthen said that Sophia Karperos is one Oak Hill runner to keep an eye on this week. She won the 1,500-meter race at the Region 16 Junior Olympic Championships and finished second in the 3,000-meter race. She’ll compete in those events and two relays this week.

Brandie Teso of Benson, Ariz., said that her family will remain in Sacramento for most of the week because of when her boys’ events are scheduled. Her 15-year-old son, Adrian, competed in the decathlon Monday and Tuesday. Her son David, 12, won’t wrap up his meet until he throws the discus on Sunday. In the meantime, they will explore Sacramento and enjoy the area’s food.

“We plan on spending some money,” Teso said with a laugh. “I think we’ll have a good time here for the week.”

Joshua Mandell: 916-321-1076, @joshuamandell

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