EUGENE, Ore. — The curtain was raised on opening night for the grandest stage in all of track and field Friday.
Oregon hosted the first day of the first meet at refurbished Hayward Field, kicking off two days of competition in the Hayward Premiere. The Ducks were able to celebrate four event victories, and more than a dozen personal bests.
Most of all, they were able to celebrate the return of competition at their home facility. And what a remarkable facility it is.
“This has been a long time coming for us here, and our program,” said UO head coach Robert Johnson, whose team last hosted an outdoor meet in the spring of 2018. “To see over the last couple days the other teams — not only the athletes, but the coaches — and then get all the pats on the back about, ‘This is amazing,’ it’s been a surreal moment today. …
“I woke up this morning excited and giddy — couldn’t wait to shoot the gun. Almost like it was Christmas morning. Because I know the blood, sweat and tears that went into pulling this off.”
The Hayward Premiere officially began with the men’s hammer throw, and in short order the Ducks had their first personal best in the new facility. That was recorded by Austin Tharp, who threw 195 feet even to finish third in the event.
Beginning with the hammer and throughout the evening, there were cheers from pockets of the facility as attendance was limited to friends and family of the participants. Still to be experienced is a meet in the new facility with packed grandstands. But Friday was a start.
“The feeling was unreal,” Tharp said. “Just walking in with all the officials and other competitors, it felt like Hayward magic was back. I’m from Eugene and my last home meet was the Oregon Twilight in 2018, so it was really nice to have family watching me compete at Hayward again for the first time in a few years.”
Competitors fed off the energy from the fans who were in attendance, and the support of their fellow student-athletes. Perhaps none of the Ducks generated more than freshman Jett Kinder, a decathlete who entered the javelin Friday and recorded six successive personal bests. He finished fifth overall, three spots behind teammate Dalton Rasmussen.
Johnson said he has a meet-day tradition of arriving early and individually greeting each of the meet officials. Usually, that’s with a high-five or fist-bump. Under pandemic conditions, he opted for what he termed an “air-five” on Friday.
It was during that point in the day, Johnson said, that the butterflies really started to flutter in anticipation of breaking in the new facility. Then, it was time to compete.
While those races were being contested, Tori Sloan was in the process of winning the long jump in a personal-best 19 feet, 5 1/4 inches. Later, Cole Hocker won the invitational section of the 1,500, in 3:38.99.
“It was definitely different and even though it wasn’t a full stadium, there was something different about the energy, especially with other teams being in there and in the mix,” Hocker said. “They definitely put on a good race, too. It was fun.”
The evening was capped off by the 10,000 meters. For the Ducks, Carmela Cardama Baez began the race in the middle of the the pack, then methodically stalked the lead group over the final 3,000 meters, moving up from ninth to finish third in 32:57.00.
“I feel like this is my home,” she said afterward, “and I’m welcoming everyone to my house to do my favorite things, which are running and racing.”
By that point in the evening, Johnson was making his way up into the stands, after his jumpers had wrapped up competition. He spent a few minutes taking in the meet as a fan, in what he called “the five-star resort at Hayward Field.”
“The video board and the capabilities there — we’re watching the 10k and we’re able to split every lap,” he said. “The Hayward faithful is going to love that. They’re so knowledgable, they’re usually doing that on their own. (They can) put their stopwatches down, stop doing the math.”
For the Ducks who competed Friday, Johnson said, “this was an experience, and they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives. But wait until we have the real Hayward and people are here, and you can’t hear the person next to you because it’s so loud. That’s the Hayward Field they remember, and the Hayward Field I want them to experience.”