As the only site to host three consecutive U.S. Olympic Trials (1972, 1976, 1980), Eugene has a long-held reputation as the center of track and field in the U.S. Hosting the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials extends this tradition. Two major components contribute to the strong relationship between the University of Oregon and the Olympic Games: Oregon's student-athlete Olympians and Olympic events held in Eugene.
In 1908, Dan Kelly captured Oregon's first Olympic medal, winning silver in the broad jump. Since that first feat at the Games in London, England, at least one UO athlete has participated in the summer Olympics each year it was held.
Diverse in talents and capabilities, Oregon's roster of Olympians also spans the globe. As Oregon became a reputable track and field institution, international student-athletes flocked to join the team. Many of these athletes went on to compete for their home countries in multiple Olympic Games. In fact, in several Olympic Games, the international roster of Oregon student-athletes, competing for their native countries, surpassed the Duck representation on the American team. For example, in 1976, 11 athletes from the University participated in the Games; seven of the 11 competed for other countries. Even when the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games, Oregon's Chris Braithwaite competed for his native Trinidad.
Oregon student-athletes and the Olympic Games have teamed up for a century. From Ralph Hill's courageous run in 1932 that pegged him the "Hero of the Games" to Piotrek Buciarski's determined pole vault efforts during the 2004 Games that left him out of medal contention, Oregon athletes embraced the entire Olympic experience from victories to disappointments. They overcame the odds and helped put themselves and the University of Oregon on the list of Olympic competitors.
With the emergence of running greats such as Dyrol Burleson and Bill Dellinger, Oregon began to mold its reputation in the 1950s and 60s as a hot-bed of track and field talent. The first major Olympic-caliber meet took place during Labor Day Weekend in 1956. The Eugene Active Club, in conjunction with the UO Athletic Department and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), held the U.S. Olympic Track Team Exhibition Meet at Hayward Field. The event showcased premier athletes and served as a training event prior to the 1956 Melbourne Games. Nearly 12,000 spectators came to the meet. It was so successful that a second exhibition meet was held at Oregon prior to the 1960 Games.
Oregon hosted its first U.S. Olympic Trials in 1972. The 10-day event drew 140,100 spectators. At the time, the mark ranked third in total attendance ever for an American meet, behind the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1962 USA-USSR meet at Stanford.
After the rave reviews of the 1972 Trials, Eugene was a shoo-in for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. For the first time in history, the organizing committee offered travel pay and a per diem for athletes who qualified for the meet. Attendance surpassed the 1972 Trials, and the meet grossed nearly $200,000 for the USOC after all expenses.
As track and field gained popularity throughout the country, competition to host the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials escalated. Oregon narrowly edged out Durham, North Carolina, by one vote, marking the third consecutive Trials awarded to the area. Despite the threat of a U.S. Olympic boycott, advanced ticket sales for the Trials reached an all-time high, and Oregon greats Bill McChesney, Jr. and Leann Warren ran away with stellar performances. Hayward Field remains the only venue to host three U.S. Olympic Trials in a row.
The U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials returned to Eugene in 2008 to sold-out crowds, with electrifying performances by the University of Oregon's Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating, and Christian Smith, who finished 1-2-3 in the 800-meter finals. The 2012 Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field promises to add new layers to the university's rich Olympic heritage.