It's good to be back. First meet of the year...
Marching out onto the track, we approach the Bowerman Building behind the 100m start. Bowerman was the long time coach at UO, co-founder of Nike, and coach of a guy named Prefontaine. Bowerman paid for an athletic facility specifically for the track teams, and the building is strategically located to block the tailwinds from the north that could negate record sprint times.
I'm marching behind Bob, our head umpire, a guy who's been coaching track almost as long as I've been alive. We commute together for the meets, and we spend the whole time in the car talking track history. I look up on the Bowerman Balcony, and I see two white-haired guys. First guy with the beard is Vin Lananna, former head coach at UO and the guy who brought the last two Olympic Trials here.
No surprise to see Vin at the track. But the other guy?
I nudge Bob, and ask, "Is that Jeff Johnson?"
Bob looks up and nods. I smile.
Jeff was the first guy hired by Phil Knight to help sell shoes at a small company called Blue Ribbon Sports, later known as Nike. Jeff is the one who came up with the iconic company name while sleeping. He hung around for 18 years, then retired at age 41 after Nike went public. Great article in Running Times about him. Oh, the stories he can tell...
The Preview Meet is the first outdoor competition of the season, and everyone is getting into shape. The Oregon women's 4x100 team is DQ'd after botching a baton pass; English Gardner, faster than most pros while still a college junior, runs the backstretch so fast that the third runner can't get the exchange done before the passing zone ends.
I smile. Good day to work out the kinks, and the UO women have a very nice problem to solve.
Most of the Oregon athletes are running in non-standard events to work on conditioning. Mike Berry, one of the nation's best 400m runners, is in the 800m. Sprinters don't like distance; when Berry comes by at 700m, he does not look happy.
One guy who isn't running is Elijah Greer, recent NCAA indoor champion in the 800. I know what he gave up for Lent: haircuts.
Men's 4x100m relay: I'm stationed at the last exchange coming out of the turn. UO's anchor is De'Anthony Thomas, starting RB for the football team and lightning fast. He's my height with 20 extra pounds of pure muscle and explosive power. He strips off his warmup tights, takes the baton, and blazes home.
He left his tights trackside. It's starting to rain, so I put the tights in my pocket to keep them dry.
2 events later, still no De' Anthony. If he doesn't want the tights, I'll return them to the team or keep them. I turn around, and here he is, looking around and looking sad. I pull them out of my pocket, and he beams.
Then he hugs me.
I love track.