As Eugene readies for the spotlight as host city for the 2012 track and field Olympic Team Trials on June 22, a new research paper by University of Oregon faculty explores the rebirth of the city’s TrackTown USA identity.
Written by professors Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Matthew Metzger and Alan Meyer, “Rekindling the Flame: Processes of Identity Resurrection,” documents the origins of TrackTown USA, its decline and resurrection, which came when UO hosted the 2008 track and field Olympic trials.
The TrackTown USA identity was forged under legendary UO track coach Bill Bowerman in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Bowerman built strong relationships between the sport and the Eugene community. That included helping launch the Oregon Track Club and organizing community track meets and clinics. The arrival of runner Steve Prefontaine in 1969 and Eugene hosting the 1972 Olympic trials helped build additional enthusiasm among residents for UO’s program and running in general.
That energy diminished, along with the TrackTown USA identity, when Bowerman retired in 1973 and Prefontaine was killed three years later in an automobile accident.
It remained a footnote in Eugene’s history until the mid-2000s, when the city began hosting signature track and field events, culminating in the 2008 Olympic trials.