By Ben DeJarnette / TrackTown USA
PORTLAND, Ore. – The ad hoc indoor track arena at 2400 NW Front Avenue will return to anonymity on Tuesday night, when the 200-meter oval track it housed will begin to be broken into 1,400 pieces and then transported to the Oregon Convention Center for next month’s USATF Indoor Championships and IAAF World Indoor Championships.
But before blending back into its industrial surroundings in northwest Portland, the city’s rags-to-riches warehouse still has four days to call itself the House of Track.
And on Friday night, it hosted one heck of a going-away party.
“I love the feel of the place,” said five-time NCAA champion English Gardner, who finished second in a thrilling women’s 60-meter dash. “The fans were amazing. They were engaging with us. I had a blast today.”
Gardner and the 60-meter field produced one of the most exciting races of the night, as four-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix (7.24 seconds) outleaned rivals Gardner (7.25) and Jenna Prandini (7.27) to win at the tape.
Gardner and Prandini, of course, are former University of Oregon teammates, and along with Felix, comprised three legs of the 4×100-meter relay team which won a silver medal for Team USA at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing last August.
“It’s fun to go out and get the legs going,” Felix said. “It’s a great track.”
In another down-to-the-wire finish, UO alum and Nike Oregon Project star Matthew Centrowitz held off a hard-charging Hassan Mead, of Oregon Track Club Elite, in the men’s 3,000 meters to stay undefeated this indoor season. His time of 7 minutes, 40.74 seconds was a huge six-second PR and the fifth-fastest time in the world this year.
But the win didn’t come without some late drama.
“I knew they were going to reel me in,” said Centrowitz, who found himself with a large lead – but a long way to go – when the pace-setter, OTC Elite’s Ben Blankenship, pulled aside late in the race.
“I glanced back with about 400-to-600 meters to go and saw them maybe 10 meters behind me. That’s a lot closer than I thought they would be. I needed more like 50 meters.”
But Centrowitz fended off Mead’s challenge on the final lap, joining a host of former Ducks to reach the winner’s circle on Friday.
In the men’s 800m, two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating (1:48.04) pulled away from his OTC Elite teammate, Harun Abda, for his second straight victory this indoor season; in the men’s 1,500, Nike Oregon Project’s Eric Jenkins outkicked Paul Chelimo and Blankenship to avenge his narrow defeat against Chelimo two weeks earlier; and in the women’s 3,000, OTC Elite’s Alexi Pappas surged late in the race to win in 9:05.12 – her best time ever on a 200-meter track.
“The crowd was awesome,” Pappas said. “There are no excuses not to perform well at the House of Track.”
Added Blankenship: “That was one of the best track and field venues I have ever been in. Truly.”
Friday’s final High Performance meet marked the bell lap for the House of Track, which only nine months ago had little hope of ever hosting an indoor track meet.
“It was vacant, leaky, and cold,” said project manager Doug Obletz. “We had to make some improvements.”
In the span of less than a year, the project team secured a zoning exemption from the city of Portland, outfitted the facility with emergency lighting, temporary heaters and other upgrades, and installed the state-of-the-art track. Since its completion last month, the facility has played host to athletes of every ability level, from Olympic champions to local grade-school runners.
“It was a great experiment,” said Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA, and head coach of the U.S. Olympic men’s track and field team. “We were excited to get as many people to use this place as we could.
“If you build it, they will come. That’s what we did.”
On Friday night, a capacity crowd of 1,600 fans packed the House of Track for the fourth and final high performance meet of the season. It was a send-off worthy of Portland’s pop-up track palace.
“It’ll be a little sad to see it go (dark) at 9 o’clock on Tuesday night,” Obletz said. “But it has exceeded all expectations. Now it’s on to the next phase of this whole thing.”
In less than five weeks, the track will be reassembled inside the Oregon Convention Center, and a temporary 7,000-seat stadium will be built around the banked emerald green oval, which is being touted as one of the fastest indoor tracks in the world.
On March 11-12, the USATF Indoor Championships will be staged, the selection meet for the U.S. athletes, who will then compete at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, March 17-20.
With yet another electric atmosphere and outstanding performances on Friday night, the House of Track finale provided more than its share of momentum for both of those meets.