Hayward Field has a grandness about it thanks to its unique history
“I would liken it to seeing the Green Monster when you go to Boston,” said Paul Swangard, the public address announcer at Hayward for 21 years, referring to Fenway Park. “It is in your face. It is an iconic piece of the facility.”
University of Oregon senior Laura Roesler has called the well-known track venue home for four years. Roesler looked comfortable Wednesday, winning her preliminary heat in the women’s 800 meters at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Roesler eased across the finish line in 2 minutes, 2.60 seconds to record to top time in the prelims. The finals are scheduled for 7:25 (CST) Friday.
“I knew it was going to go fast … a couple people in that heat that like to really take it out and make it an honest race,” said Roesler, a former Fargo South track star. “I was prepared for that. I was just preparing myself not to panic, don’t worry about the first lap and things will work themselves out.”
The Hayward crowd gave Roesler a loud cheer when she was announced prior to the start of her preliminary race.
“It made me feel like I belong here, I belong on the line, everything is fine, I have support in the stands,” Roesler said.
The crowd also cheered Roesler across the finish line, where she gave a quick wave right before she crossed, in appreciation of the support. Roesler estimated she had 30 family members in the crowd, including her dad, Lynn, and, mom, Karen.
“I like to think that everyone is cheering just for me,” she joked.
Roesler said her nerves grew during the race. She took the track about 20 minutes after the Ducks 400-meter women’s relay team dropped the baton during its preliminary race. That contributed to Roesler’s uneasiness. The home crowd gasped after the Oregon relay team lost the baton on the first handoff, hurting the Ducks’ chances of winning the team championship.
“I heard the crowd, and my coach let me know,” Roesler said of the relay mishap. “I was pretty relaxed before the race, and then hearing that, during (my) race I was more nervous than I have been all day.”
Roesler bided her time in the first three-quarters of her 800, and then surged into the lead with around 200 meters remaining. She finished ahead of Stanford sophomore Claudia Saunders, who ran a 2:02.68, which was the second-best time in prelims.
“I knew coming off the home stretch, I looked up at the (video) screen, me and Stanford were clear of everyone, so there was really no reason to go to the well today,” said Roesler, who won the 800 indoor national title in March.
Hayward Field opened in 1919 for football, and in 1921, a six-lane cinder track was added. Famous running figures like Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine helped contribute to the history of the facility, which is named after longtime track coach Bill Hayward. Hayward was known as the “Grand Old Man” during his 44 years leading the program.
Bowerman was the Oregon head coach for 24 years and a Nike co-founder. Bowerman started a public jogging program at Hayward Field in the 1960s. His statue, which depicts him holding a stopwatch, overlooks what is called “Bowerman” curve, the final turn on the track before runners hit the straightaway in front of the west grandstand.
Prefontaine was a running icon in the 1970s who died at age 24 in a car crash. Pre’s Rock, which is a short jog away from Hayward Field, is a memorial at the site of where Prefontaine had his fatal crash.
“That gives the place kind of a unique heritage,” Swangard said of the legendary running figures. “I think it is the combination of a lot of things like any historic venue. The history plays a huge role in it. There have been a lot of great performances and a lot of great moments there.”
While most track venues will draw 100 fans to early spring meets, Swangard said, Hayward Field will routinely attract around 5,000 spectators to those type of events.
“It’s an amazing place where people love track and field,” North Dakota State head women’s track coach Ryun Godfrey said. “When they have a meet there, you have to buy a ticket to get in. That doesn’t exist in a lot of places in this country.”
Roesler is featured on a billboard, with two of her teammates, right off one of the roads that leads into Hayward Field. The venue became a track-only facility in 1967 after Autzen Stadium was built for Ducks football. Hayward is nestled near the heart of the Oregon campus. Both the east and west grandstands are covered. The east grandstand was built in 1925.
Lynn and Karen have made multiple trips to Hayward to watch Laura during her college track career. Laura also competed in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, which were at Hayward, after her sophomore year at South.
“It is really fun watching a meet at Hayward Field,” Lynn said. “They are true track fans there. The facility itself is very nice, but they get a good crowd there that supports it. The kids love running in front of a good, supportive crowd.”
Wednesday was no different for the Hayward faithful, which cheered good performances, and routinely clapped in rhythm to encourage athletes, both on the track and in field events, during their performances.
“It’s like a runner’s dream,” Karen said. “It is a track athlete’s dream.”
Swangard said Hayward Field has an “it” factor that is shared by the top venues in any sport.
“There’s a pulse to that venue that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Swangard said. “There are times when I don’t have to say anything and everybody knows what’s going on. That is a very unique element. … If you want to perform at the elite level in track and field, this is the venue you want to compete at.”