EUGENE, Ore. – Within the first few bars of “O Canada,” the national anthem of our neighbors to the north, Brianne Theisen-Eaton could no longer contain her emotions, and tears of joy came flowing down her cheeks.
It was her golden moment.
Just two hours earlier, Theisen-Eaton had won her first gold medal on a global stage, setting a national record and world-leading mark of 4,881 points in winning the pentathlon at the IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
The first one to greet her with a congratulatory hug was her husband, Ashton Eaton, who was in the midst of competition in the heptathlon, an event he would go on to win for the third straight time at the World Indoor Championships.
Later, Team Eaton would be reunited following the medal ceremonies at Pioneer Courthouse Square, where a tear-streaked Theisen-Eaton stood tall on the awards podium and received her gold medal as a crowd of over 1,500 people cheered wildly for the former University of Oregon standout.
“That was the coolest medal ceremony I’ve ever experienced, by far,” Theisen-Eaton said.
Bringing the medal ceremonies to Pioneer Courthouse Square was but one of many innovations undertaken by event organizers at the meet, which drew a four-day attendance total of 39,283, including sold-out evening sessions on Friday (7,016), Saturday (7,173) and Sunday (7,191) at the Oregon Convention Center.
“I think we exceeded all expectations,” said Vin Lananna, TrackTown USA president and head coach of the U.S. Olympic men’s track and field team. “Everyone has this idea that the track and field fans are only in Eugene, but the city of Portland, and the entire state of Oregon, has a real connection to the sport. This is just the start.”
One of the most popular innovations at World Indoors was the elaborate introductions before each final, where the athletes entered the stadium, one by one, descending a ramp with music blaring, the lights dimmed and enveloped in fog.
The pole vault drew 6,924 fans as a stand-alone event on Thursday; 144 high school athletes representing 36 schools competed on the same track as their heroes in six 4×400-meter relay races; and the official IAAF press conference eschewed formal suits and ties for a more casual setting outside at Pioneer Courthouse Square with the public invited to ask questions of the VIPs and athletes.
In the end, more than 500 athletes from 144 countries competed in Portland. Besides the sold-out crowds at the OCC, thousands more joined the festivities each day and night at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Here’s what UO alum Laura Roesler told Jeff Smith of the Portland Tribune about her experience.
“Track and field really needed an event like this,” said Roesler, the 2014 Bowerman winner, who placed fourth in the women’s 800 meters in her first international championships. “I hope people walked away from it and bragged about what a good experience this was. Because even though I’m biased, it really was a great time in a great environment.”
On the track, it was a record-setting meet for Team USA, which enjoyed a home field advantage for the first time in 30 years:
- Team USA won 23 medals, a record for any country at a single World Indoors, breaking the old mark of 19 medals won by the U.S. in 1999.
- Team USA also won 13 gold medals, breaking the previous record of 10, achieved by the U.S. in 2012.
- Michelle Carter set an American indoor record to win the shot put at 66 feet, 3 ¾ inches (20.21m); the first U.S. woman to win the shot at WIC.
- UO alum Matthew Centrowitz claimed the first men’s 1,500-meter gold medal ever by a U.S. runner at WIC.
- Ashton Eaton became the first man to ever win three straight golds in the heptathlon at the WIC.
- Jenn Suhr and Sandi Morris gave the U.S. a 1-2 finish in the women’s pole vault for only the second time in WIC history.
- Brittney Reese won her third straight WIC long jump title, raising her total global championship gold count to nine.
- Nia Ali joined Lolo Jones as the only two American women to win successive 60m hurdle titles at World Indoors.
- Trayvon Bromell (20 years, 252 days) became the youngest man to ever win gold in the 60m at the WIC.
- Vashti Cunningham (18 years, 62 days) became the youngest American ever to medal at World Indoors and the youngest woman to win the high jump at WIC.
The final word belongs to IAAF President Sebastian Coe.
“During the past four days, we have experienced indoor athletics at its finest at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016,” he said. “Top-class entertainment, innovatively presented with light and sound effects, from the introduction of the athletes in the stadium to the medal ceremonies in the heart of the city center.
“We were thrilled by some outstanding performances. The four action-packed days produced 10 world-leading marks, with two championship, seven area and more than 40 national records set in the Oregon Convention Center.
“Indoor athletics offers an intimate experience for sports fans who are separated by no more than a few feet from the athletes in competition. The capacity crowds this week have shown that indoor athletics delivers a great show when well packaged.”