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Olympic Dreaming is Coming True

July 7th, 2019 by dk

I try hard never to repeat myself. There are too many stories to be told all around us every day. It has never made sense for me to cover the same ground a second time. But rules are made to be broken. I’d like to go back to something I wrote almost exactly 11 years ago. It came up in multiple conversations this week, and it will soon become relevant in ways that none of us imagined.

On July 4, 2008, I suggested in this space that Eugene should offer to be the host city for the 2020 Olympics. Hayward Field had just completed hosting the Olympic Trials for the first time in a generation. I reasoned that we should set our sights higher, just as the world-class athletes we had just hosted had done.

My suggestion was fanciful. The only city near our size to host the Olympics in the last century was Antwerp, Belgium in 1920. Still, I had my reasons. Phil Knight has been a benefactor for his sport and his alma mater, so it didn’t seem too much of a stretch to imagine he might show some interest in helping Eugene run with the big dogs.

Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz, who was still new to our community, latched onto my idea and began using it when he spoke to groups around town. He used my proposal as a way to urge civic leaders to amp up their ambitions for what we could do here and what sort of city we could become.

Unbeknownst to Ruiz or to me, Knight did have some ideas similar to what we were shopping in 2008. I’m not suggesting any of Knight’s ideas came from either of us. The person who most likely deserves some credit is Associate Athletic Director and Knight-whisperer Vin Lananna, who came to town in 2005 determined to cement Eugene’s legacy as Track Town, USA.

After hosting the Olympic trials in 2008 and again in 2012, Knight and Lananna were convinced Eugene could do something bigger. Plans were made, proposals were crafted, the pitch was perfected — and Eugene is now poised to host the International Association of Athletics Federation’s 2021 World Championships.

It’s not the Olympics, but it will be the largest sporting event in the world in 2021. It will draw over 2,000 athletes from 190 nations, thousands of coaches and journalists, and more worldwide attention than this state has ever received. Take that, Antwerp!

Planners are determined to make Oregon21 a statewide event, but make no mistake. The epicenter will be Eugene and the reimagined Hayward Field. For ten days, Eugene will have the world’s attention. Work has begun to get us ready.

Ruiz this week convened civic and business leaders from across every spectrum to become public innovators. We compared notes about what must be done and how we can work together to prepare the community for those ten days.

Those efforts will multiply many times over the next 24 months. The time has come for us to amp up our ambitions and articulate what sort of city we will become.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at To read Kahle’s first column on this topic, go to

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