Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taking a trip on the wayback machine (Eugene 1976 Olympic Trials)...

As paulmerca.blogspot.com prepares to take the white Toyota Corolla with the University of Washington vanity plates to Eugene, Oregon for the US Olympic Team Trials-Track & Field, I thought I’d take a ride on the wayback machine to 1976, and my first Olympic Trials.

In June of 1976, folks were getting excited at celebrating the country’s Bicentennial in a few weeks. The group “Wings” with Paul McCartney held the number one hit throughout June with the song “Silly Love Songs”, and who knew that 1976 would be the timeframe for a CBS television series airing 32 years later called “Swingtown” about the sexual revolution permeating adults of that era (not that there's anything wrong with that...).

If you followed track and field, the big names of that era were sprinter Steve Williams, distance runner Frank Shorter, decathlete Bruce Jenner, discus thrower Mac Wilkins, and high jumper Dwight Stones. What was supposed to have been Steve Prefontaine’s year of revenge after fading in the Munich Olympic 5000 meter finals four years earlier never transpired, as he was killed a year earlier.

I’d just finished my junior year at Franklin High School in south Seattle, and somehow managed to talk my mother into letting me travel by myself by bus to Eugene…come to think of it, that was the first time I’d traveled anywhere by myself.

Little would I know that this would be the first of nine straight Olympic Trials meets that I’ve witnessed over the years.

Some memories of my first Olympic Trials include running from the Oregon campus (we stayed in the dorms) up to Hendricks Park; finding out the hard way that the annual case of hay fever in June in Seattle was nothing compared to the case I got in Eugene, which forced me to buy some surgical masks at a drugstore; getting sucked in to run a 10000 on the track (a couple of friends of mine and I somehow got on the Hayward Field track during the rest day and ran an impromptu 10k race, with nobody seeming to mind—I think I ran somewhere around 37 minutes in my Nike Pre-Montreal spikes--see photo above); and, making a special pilgrimage to 1172 Pearl Street just to see the Nike track and field promotions office (it was closed) and the Nike Vainqueur spikes in an array of colors they were handing out to their sponsored athletes.

For those who know me well, you know about my unwavering affinity for Nikes (that’s not to say that everyone else makes substandard shoes compared to Nike, but they were loyal to me during my competitive days).

In the mid-70s, the Vainqueur (above/photo courtesy Nike Inc) was THE spike to have, because all the top middle and long distance runners in the USA wore them, like Don Kardong, Duncan MacDonald, Paul Geis, and Craig Virgin (who I would get to know well some 30 years later as staff members of the USA cross country team in Mombasa, Kenya).

The pictured Vainqueur track spike got special Olympic treatment for America's bicentennial year in this red, white and blue color makeup done specifically for the Olympic Trials at Eugene, Oregon's Hayward Field.

The Vainqueur had just been released for the Trials, but were not available to the public until the start of the 1977 track season. Nonetheless, I wanted a pair of them in the worst way, preferably in Franklin school colors of green and black, as I’d actually seen an athlete in the Trials with a pair in that colorway.

Alas, it didn’t happen…but, I left the trials with a brand new pair of spikes, as the adidas athlete hospitality room happened to be in the dorm near where I was staying. I happened to talk to Olympic Trials triple jump winner James Butts as he was entering the hospitality room, and asked him if he could “hook a brother up”.

Twenty minutes later, Butts walked out of the hospitality room with a stack full of gear, and sure enough, there was a pair of navy and white adidas Sprints in a size 7 for me! I was so happy that I gave him my Franklin HS Metro Champs t-shirt.

Somewhere in my mother’s house, those shoes still reside as memories of the first Olympic track & field trials I attended. Needless to say, I haven’t missed the Olympic Trials since.

NOTE: Special thanks to Nike media relations goddess Heidi Burgett for this trip down memory lane.

1 comment:

Native Oregon Hiker said...

Nice story. I was a 16 year old and playing in the band that was on a platform that was at the north end of the track. After the days events a friend and I would go down on the field and talk to the likes of Bruce Jenner and Craig Virgin. I'm not surprised you could run on an off day. Things were very informal back then.

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