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Sacramento bids farewell to Track and Field championships. Are Olympic Trials coming?

On the podium for the shot put, third-place Ryan Whiting, champion Ryan Crouser and runner-up Joe Kovacs acknowledge the crowd at Sacramento State.
On the podium for the shot put, third-place Ryan Whiting, champion Ryan Crouser and runner-up Joe Kovacs acknowledge the crowd at Sacramento State. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships came to a stirring finale Sunday afternoon at Sacramento State, leaving the city to wonder whether it might only be a few years until the nation’s top athletes in the sport return to Hornet Stadium.

Sacramento is still waiting for USA Track and Field to announce its host city for the 2020 Olympic Trials. It is one of three finalists for the event, along with Walnut and Eugene, Ore., which has hosted the last three Olympic Trials.

Representatives from the three cities made final presentations to USATF officials Sunday morning in Sacramento. But a decision did not come Sunday, despite some prior thought that USATF might announce the next Trials site during its national championships.

Jill Geer, a spokesperson for USATF, declined comment on the Trials decision process and on whether Sacramento made any final impressions hosting the national meet this weekend. Geer did say that, despite triple-digit temperatures that affected attendance on the first two days, USATF deemed the championships a success.

“Overall it went pretty seamlessly,” Geer said. “When you look at any championship, the first thing you look at is, how were the performances? (Sunday) alone we had some amazing performances. And what those performances indicate is well-prepared athletes, but also athletes who are having a positive experience here on the site.”

Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission, said athlete experience was a key point of his presentation to USATF officials Sunday. Sophia said part of the city’s pitch is a “Sacramento sendoff” rally for athletes who qualify for the Olympics that could incorporate the Golden 1 Center and surrounding Downtown Commons area.

Vice Mayor Rick Jennings helped deliver the presentation, Sophia said, which mentioned Sacramento’s history with track and field and local support for major sporting events like the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament held here in 2015. Sophia said he hoped having the national championships in Sacramento as a backdrop Sunday would be a benefit.

“I think it helped,” Sophia said. “Sacramento is generally an easy place to get to, we have great hotel options and all those things. So having that kind of fresh in everybody’s mind is nice.”

In 2013, the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and the sports commission paid for a $1.2 million upgrade to the Hornet Stadium track partly with hopes of bringing the Olympic Trials back to Sacramento. The city hosted the Trials in 2000 and 2004 and set attendance records by drawing more than 20,000 spectators per day.

Sacramento is hoping to lure the Trials away from Eugene, which offers a rich culture in track and field and a storied facility in Hayward Field that is being renovated to host the 2021 IAAF World Outdoor Championships. USATF is expected to announce its Trials decision no later than mid-July. Sophia said he believes “they want to make the decision sooner than later.”

Sunday proved a stirring finale for the four-day championships at Sacramento State, with events including a historic race in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. For the first time, three women all finished under 53 seconds, led by winner Dalilah Muhammad, whose time of 52.64 seconds was the sixth-fastest ever.

In the men’s shot put, Ryan Crouser unleashed a throw of 74 feet, 3 3/4 inches. It was the longest throw in 14 years and five inches farther than Crouser’s gold medal-winning throw last summer in Rio.

In the mid-afternoon, Ameer Webb used a late burst to win the men’s 200m sprint in 20.09 seconds, moments before Deajah Stevens claimed the women’s 200m in 22.30. Top three finishers in each event earned berths at this year’s IAAF World Championships held in London in August.

Sunday was the coolest day of the meet, with highs in the mid-90s. For Webb, there was little effect from the temperatures. “I train in Phoenix,” he said. “When I came out here, it was 128 degrees in Phoenix. It’s nothing to come out here in 95.”

The meet drew a total of 29,743 spectators over the four days. It was fewer than the 2014 USATF Championships, also at Sacramento State, which drew more than 30,000. But the heat likely contributed to lighter crowds Thursday (6,601) and Friday (7,302).

Sophia said paramedics responded to “a couple” of heat-related issues in the stands over the first two days, but that no spectators had to be transported during the meet. Geer said: “Functionally and operationally, it probably could not have gone better.”

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