Kristin Ihle Helledy Talks TrackTown USA Ahead of the 2022 World Athletics Championships
To some, Eugene, Oregon, is a Northwestern city known for its captivating vistas and sprawling green spaces. But for a select group of athletes like Kristin Ihle Helledy, Eugene is indisputably TrackTown USA. And with the World Athletics Championships (WAC) Oregon22 slated for July 15–24 in the heart of Eugene, the stage is set for one of the most memorable events in track history. Kristin Ihle Helledy, a six-time Collegiate All-American, competed in the IAAF PreFontaine Classic held on the same track, 20 years ago as well as being a member of a number of World USA teams. But this time, she admits, she’s counting down the days to being a spectator at the event.
“I love Eugene, Oregon,” says Helledy, who was sponsored by Nike during her running career. The world-renowned athletic brand was also born in Eugene. “I love the community. It’s the first time that I will attend as a fan to watch distance running. The stands will be packed elbow to elbow.”
The WAC is a 10-day event that features the best and in the track and field community on a global scale. Over 2,000 competitors representing over 190 countries are expected to attend the Oregon22 event, and millions more will be tuning in from around the world to watch streaming footage of the competition. The University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field represents the heart of track and field in the United States, especially distance running. Newly renovated, Hayward Field will play host to this year’s events for the first time in the history of the WAC. Helledy noted that while this is a non-Olympic year, the qualifications and requirements are just as stringent for participants in the WAC. This year, 37 defending world champions and 37 U.S. Olympic medalists are expected to participate.
Eugene is known for its long history of runners and running competitions, and Helledy herself has competed and trained in Eugene throughout her long career in the sport. TrackTown residents follow the athletes so closely that they have been known to engage in a fantasy sports format at IAAF events.
“You know how there’s fantasy football? No kidding, they had fantasy track. I can remember showing up for the IAAF PreFontaine Classic and someone saying, ‘Oh yeah, Kristin I’ve got you on my team.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So there’s a fan base. These fans go all in, for sure.”
Kristin Ihle Helledy also has great memories specifically of Hayward Field, which is iconic in track and field circles. The stadium recently underwent an extensive renovation, making it a state-of-the-art facility with unobstructed sight lines, improved acoustics, an updated nine-lane track, and refreshed seating and pedestrian access. Such improvements have helped elevate an already lauded venue to the next level for college and international sports competitions.
Already, she’s dreaming of taking in her favorite races.
“I will definitely be sure to watch the 5K and the 10K and the 1500 [meter] races,” she confides. “My favorite event is the women’s 400-meter hurdles.”
Although her pro-running career is in her rearview, Helledy is a lifer. She often still takes to the trails surrounding the University of Oregon campus and those along the Willamette River. Her footsteps echo those of famous athletes who have come before her, notably Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine was an American long-distance runner who set a variety of records while running for the Oregon Track Club. Another famous predecessor who called TrackTown USA home was Nike’s own co-founder Bill Bowerman, a renowned track and field coach who trained 31 Olympic athletes during his tenure with University of Oregon and the U.S. Olympic track team.
Looking forward to the WAC Oregon22, Helledy recounted some of what makes Hayward Field special, after being chosen as this year’s venue. Hayward Field separates itself from many others in the college tour with its intimate seating and access for fans to watch the athletes.
“You’re pretty close. You’re right on the track, and the fans are so track savvy it is second to none.” explained Ihle Helledy. It also holds space for fan events and inclusion of vendor booths and activities. The recent upgrades have her looking forward to this year’s competitions, with Hayward Field featuring enhanced technology and a capacity that can expand to 25,000.
“It’s fun to kind of upgrade technology and facilities and make it friendlier for the athletes, to make it more engaging for the fans.” Fans taking in the event for the first time are encouraged to participate in the events scattered across the campus. However, Ihle Helledy urges attendees to arrive early and look for the warmup track, where the views of the best in the world are unparalleled.
The world-class athletes have, “trained years for this day, for this moment,” adds Helledy, “and being able to be a part of it now as a fan, rather than an athlete, makes me feel like I can be a part of it in a different way. I can relate to the bell lap, without feeling its grueling pain.”