The spirit of innovation that has been at the core of the planning for the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 was evident again at the Opening Press Conference on Thursday afternoon
The pre-event press conference is often a stiff, formal affair, held in a hotel lobby or in the bowels of an arena or stadium. The World Indoor press conference, however, was anything but stiff and formal. It had entertaining stories, interesting and honest responses from organizers and athletes, and much joking and laughter.
Staged outdoors in Pioneer Courthouse Square, otherwise known as “Portland’s Living Room,” where the medal ceremonies will also take place, it felt a little bit like a group of folks sitting around in an Irish pub sharing stories and laughs. A large contingent of international and U.S. media members were on hand, but the event was open to anyone. Even more remarkable, the general public as well as the media was able to ask questions of the athletes and luminaries at the conference.
After 20 straight days with rain in Portland, the clouds parted on this opening day of the championships. Sunglasses were in, umbrellas were out and coats were definitely optional for this gathering. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales took notice, saying the World Indoor Championships are “literally and figuratively Portland’s moment in the sun.”
Following a salute to all those with Irish ancestry on this St. Patrick’s Day – including himself by the way – IAAF Sebastian Coe began his remarks by noting the IAAF World Indoor Championships, with 500 competitors from 140 countries, are “the largest sporting event outside the Olympic Games this year.”
TrackTown USA President Vin Lananna spoke of his organization’s passion to create a championship event that is not only “athlete-centric,” but also one that will “connect all facets of our community to the sport that has been embraced and loved for generations.” Lananna said that especially includes connecting “the youth of our communities to these great heroes to my left on this stage. That’s what it’s all about – the next generation of track and field.”
“These heroes” of whom Lananna spoke included defending champion and world heptathlon record-holder Ashton Eaton, a Portland native, world indoor and outdoor silver medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton of Canada, two-time silver medallist sprinter Kim Collins of St. Kitts & Nevis, world high jump leader Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, and U.S. national champion in the 800, Ajee Wilson.
The best story of the press conference involved the head bandage Ashton Eaton was wearing while competing at last week’s U.S. Indoor Championships. The photo circulated around the internet, but few actually saw what happened.
Ashton explained, “Essentially, a pole vault crossbar fell on my head. And the worst part of the story is I was telling everyone nearby that ‘you guys, you need to watch out for the crossbar, keep your head on a swivel.’ And who gets hit? Me.”
Brianne Theisen-Eaton took over the story about her husband from there.
“I didn’t even see it happen. When I found out about it was when our physio was running over and saying, ‘Ashton is getting staples in his head – do you think that is a good idea?’ I said, ‘What?’ So my first concern was he is going to look like Frankenstein and I went down there to make sure there were no staples going into his head and that’s what the bandage was for. He got stitched up afterward.”
Among the other more arcane subjects covered were why Tamberi at one point in his career had half of a beard, how Kim Collins, who will turn 40 in April, manages to keep sprinting at a world-class level, and Seb Coe’s black and white video of his first major championship at the 1977 World Indoors.
It was one of the few press conferences that this observer was sorry to see end.