The center of the track and field universe this weekend is Hayward Field, and the stars were shining brilliantly on the first night of the Prefontaine Classic.
Friday’s program featured four races at the reimagined home of Oregon track and field. Prior to the last event of the night, an official opening ceremony was held to celebrate the first year of competition at the venue, and to honor the world-class athletes both collegiate and professional who helped Eugene earn the designation of TrackTown USA.
The ceremony included all three living alums featured on the stadium’s iconic tower, including two-time 1960 Olympic gold medalist Otis Davis, who kicked off the ceremony alongside recently crowned Olympic bronze medalist Raevyn Rogers.
After dozens of Tokyo Olympians on hand for the event were introduced, along with a group of UO track and field alumni, the ceremony ended with Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton offering a formal welcome to the fans and athletes on hand celebrating the new home of track and field in the United States, and the host venue for the 2022 World Championships.
On the track, three-time Tokyo Olympic medalist Sifan Hassan capped the evening by taking a shot at the world record at 5,000 meters. With newly implemented Wavelight technology setting the pace along the rail, Hassan crossed the line in 14 minutes, 27.89 seconds, shy of the record but faster than her gold medal-winning time from Tokyo of 14:36.79.
The evening began with Rebecca Mehra winning the women’s 1,500 meters in 4:06.75. In the international men’s mile, crowd favorite Craig Engels took the lead coming off the final turn and waved his arm in the air to call for more noise out of the fans, but he was caught in the final few meters by Geordie Beamish, who won in 3:54.86; Oregon alum Sam Prakel was fourth in 3:55.49.
Francine Niyonsaba then won the women’s 2-mile race in 9:00.75, the third-fastest time in history. Then, the venue lights went dark, the Hayward Field tower lit up in green and yellow and the opening ceremony began.
The program featured a tribute to all five icons featured on the tower, including Davis, Eaton, Rogers, Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine. Then a who’s who of recent Olympians was introduced, including gold medalists such as Eliud Kipchoge and Katie Nageotte, and the new generation of American stars including Rai Benjamin, Noah Lyles, Raven Saunders and Gabby Thomas.
The meet concludes Saturday with races featuring Rogers and fellow UO alums who also raced in the Tokyo Games including Jessica Hull, Cravon Gillespie, Jenna Prandini and Matthew Centrowitz. It will be a world-class program hosted by a world-class venue, which got an opening ceremony befitting its past, present and future on Friday night.