EUGENE, Ore. – The last time hurdler Devon Allen raced at Hayward Field, he was wearing the yellow and green Nike uniform of the University of Oregon.
The 22-year-old dual-sport athlete, who announced his decision to turn professional in track and field last November, is targeting a return to the track on May 5 at the Oregon Twilight Meet, where he will still be donning the swoosh – minus the “O” in the center.
“I wanted to announce that I have officially signed with Nike.”
– Devon Allen
“I wanted to announce that I have officially signed with Nike,” Allen said, before a delighted crowd of more than 200 people at the monthly TrackTown Tuesday event at the Downtown Athletic Club last night. “It was kind of natural being at Oregon … I thought that it was the best move for me to stay in the clothes I’m wearing.”
Allen’s wardrobe was already filled with Nike gear from both Oregon and Team USA prior to signing his professional contract, so now, he has one less chore of having to clean out his closet.
“That was something I was kind of dreading, but luckily it worked out, so I can keep all my gear,” said Allen, the U.S. Olympic Trials champion who went on to place fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Allen, a sports business senior at Oregon, is in his first month of running after undergoing his second ACL surgery. He said he was focused on strengthening his leg muscles and cited significant progress in being able to train at full speed, as well as regaining his mobility and flexibility. Getting his confidence back, however, might take a while longer.
“It’s going to take a little time, but I’m excited that I’m going to be okay for this season and I’m ready to go,” he said.
Oregon Track Club Elite teammates Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship have never been too far away from each other. They competed against one another in high school in Minnesota before becoming Golden Gopher teammates at the University of Minnesota. Upon graduation, they joined OTC Elite, and last year, they both qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
With 12 years of track and field memories, it was no wonder they recalled experiences that revolved around running when they were asked about their favorite memory of each other.
Mead described a Big 10 5,000-meter final in which Blankenship – who was running to score points for the team after competing in the 1,500m just 35 minutes earlier – provided commentary during the race that was clearly audible to the other runners. On the homestretch, Mead said Blankenship started clapping his hands over his head as he placed fourth overall.
“That’s Blankenship for you,” Mead said.
For Blankenship, there was a more dramatic flair to his favorite memory of Mead. He recalled a race in which there was smoke lingering on the track after a fireworks display from a nearby softball game, and Mead was the only one who seemed unaffected by the conditions as he easily won the race.
“I had never seen a feat so incredible,” said Blankenship, a finalist in the 1,500m at the Rio Olympics, who claimed his first national title with a victory in the mile at the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque last weekend.
“I told myself, ‘Okay, if I don’t make it, I’m going to be a coal miner.’”
Leading into the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field last summer, Blankenship said he was forced to reevaluate his racing mindset and approach to training after he narrowly missed qualifying for the 2015 IAAF World Championships when he was nipped at the line by Leo Manzano.
“I told myself, ‘Okay, if I don’t make it (to the Olympics), I’m going to be a coal miner,’” Blankenship said.
At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, however, it was Blankenship’s turn to beat Manzano for the third and final spot on Team USA in the 1,500m.
The other TrackTown Tuesday guests were Oregon javelin throwers Cody Danielson and John Nizich, who were joined on the stage by UO throws coach Erik Whitsitt. Both of the javelin throwers confirmed they have experienced the “Hayward magic.”
While competing for Central Catholic High School at the OSAA state championships at Hayward Field, Nizich surprised himself when he first broke the 200-foot mark, a benchmark which he said “separates the boys from the men.” The sight of his parents “freaking out” in the stands and the crowd’s immediate reaction implanted the idea that he wanted to continue competing in TrackTown USA.
“I thought, ‘Hey, it’d be kinda cool to compete here as a Duck,’” said Nizich, a native of Oregon City.
Danielson, the latest in a long line of outstanding javelin throwers mentored by coach Joe Boutin at Newberg High School, spent two seasons at UCLA before transferring to Oregon. He qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships as a Bruin in 2014, and he was most impressed by the fact that the Hayward Field fans supported all athletes, regardless of team.
“(I remember there) was some girl who wasn’t even a Duck, but the whole stadium was going wild for her,” said Danielson, a UO redshirt senior. “I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
The next Tracktown Tuesday will be at the Downtown Athletic Club on April 4.