By Anne M. Peterson
AP Sports Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon is about to become the hub of elite track and field leading to the Rio Games.
The U.S. indoor championships open Friday at the Portland Convention Center, and next week the venue will host the world championships.
Then the attention shifts to Eugene, Oregon for the U.S. Olympic Trials in July. In between, Eugene also will host the NCAA championships and the Prefontaine Classic, the only Diamond League international meet in the United States.
“One of the great things about this is, Portland is the first stop on the road to Rio,” said Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA President and U.S. Olympic men’s head coach, as he surveyed the indoor track.
Lananna was instrumental in bringing the indoor worlds to Portland, and he also mounted the successful bid to bring the outdoor World Championships to Eugene in 2021.
This week, construction workers were putting the finishing touches on the banked 200-meter oval track in the cavernous convention hall. The track is ringed by temporary stands for 7,000 spectators. Special sand for the long and triple-jump pit was brought in from Idaho.
“It (the track) was constructed in a warehouse and then it was taken apart, in 1,400 pieces, and shipped over here to be put back together,” Lananna said. “It was like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.”
The nationals, set for Friday and Saturday, will have a very Oregon feel.
Portland’s Galen Rupp is among the athletes who will compete at nationals, running in the 3,000 meters on Friday night. Rupp has already earned a spot on the U.S. team for the Rio Games with a first-place finish last month in the marathon trials.
Rupp is the American record holder in the indoor 3,000 with a time of 7 minutes, 30.16 seconds.
Ashton Eaton, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, plans to compete in the 60 and the long jump. Eaton, an Oregon native who was a standout for the Ducks, holds the world records for both the decathlon and indoor heptathlon.
Fellow former Duck Matthew Centrowitz is among those entered in the 1,500, while Oregon alum Laura Roesler, who won the 2014 Bowerman Award, is entered in the women’s 800.
The top two finishers in each event at nationals will represent the United States at worlds.
“What we’ve tried to do is really make this an athlete focused meet, and we’ve done everything we can to create an athlete directed event where they’ll have a great competition, great warmup, great crowd,” Lananna said. “It’s been 36 months of work by a lot of people.”
Some high-profile U.S. athletes are skipping the indoor championships, including sprinters Allyson Felix and Tyson Gay, as well as middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds. Because it is an Olympic year, many athletes prefer to focus on the outdoor season.