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Building A Track And Field Empire In Oregon

Emmett Bailor writhed as he paced around the corrals guiding athletes back to the warmup area at the Oregon Convention Center.

He and his teammates seemed unaccustomed to the post-race media scrum. After all, the members of the 4x400 meters relay squad were all high schoolers. International press isn’t what they’re used to.

But the world’s stage and spotlight were theirs this past weekend, if only for a few minutes. More than 30 boys and girls relay teams from Oregon and Washington competed throughout the IAAF World Indoor Championships for track and field in Portland — the first time in the history of the meet.

Brendan Van Voorhis runs for McNary High School in Salem. He learned of his opportunity to run at worlds two weeks before the competition.

“I got pretty excited about it,” Van Voorhis said. “To be on this track with all these great athletes and be able to run on the same track as them, that’s pretty cool.”

Van Voorhis watched the world championships with his father over the weekend and came to Portland for the USATF Indoor Championships the week prior.

The national and international indoor competitions are two in a lengthy list of marquee track and field events in Oregon in the coming five years.

The insertion of youth events into the weekend’s big show is part of an effort by state and local organizations to revive track and field in Oregon.

“The USA is historically the powerhouse of track and field,” said Sebastian Coe, a former Olympic gold medalist and current IAAF President. “Yet the US is still a country where the general perception of track and field is low. It’s great that that regeneration should be taking place here in the state of Oregon and this city of Portland.”

Several of the sport’s superstars hail from or make the Beaver State their home.

Liam Pickhardt, who ran for Crook County High School on Saturday, said Oregon’s reputation for developing some of the world’s best track stars makes that rejuvenation a possibility.

“The top distance athletes train in Oregon and people like Mo Farah traveled from Britain just to live in Portland to train, to be with the best,” he said.

The high schoolers navigating the press corrals spoke of stars like Farah and American sprinter Barbara Pierre like others might speak of LeBron James.

That level of enthusiasm for track and field, as well as high participation rates among children and adults, drive the track elite in the Northwest to try to grow the sport. (Take a look at the astonishing array of billboards at a major international track and field competition and you’ll understand the sport’s financial allure as well.)

Top athletes from around the globe were on display in Portland throughout the weekend, which pointed lots of bright lights and television cameras at the Rose City and the greater Pacific Northwest.

The sold out crowds at the Oregon Convention Center may have been there to see the superstars of international track and field, but they also got a peek at some who may be tomorrow’s champions.

In addition to the high school relays, more than 500 athletes from the Northwest competed at an invitational at the Oregon Convention Center in the days leading up to worlds. About 350 Portland middle school students held events at the venue also.

<p>Children carried flags large and small in the opening ceremony for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland on March 17, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Children carried flags large and small in the opening ceremony for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland on March 17, 2016.

<p>A woman carries the American flag during opening ceremonies for the IAAF World Indoor Championships on Thursday, March 17, 2016. "The USA is historically the powerhouse of track and field ... It&rsquo;s great that that regeneration should be taking place here in the state of Oregon and this city of Portland," said former Olympian Sebastian Coe at a press conference Thursday.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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A woman carries the American flag during opening ceremonies for the IAAF World Indoor Championships on Thursday, March 17, 2016. "The USA is historically the powerhouse of track and field ... It’s great that that regeneration should be taking place here in the state of Oregon and this city of Portland," said former Olympian Sebastian Coe at a press conference Thursday.

<p>American pole vaulters Mike Arnold, left, and Sam Kendricks stand arm-in-arm. Kendricks earned a silver medal in the final Thursday, March 17, 2016. Arnold finished eighth.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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American pole vaulters Mike Arnold, left, and Sam Kendricks stand arm-in-arm. Kendricks earned a silver medal in the final Thursday, March 17, 2016. Arnold finished eighth.

<p>Poland's Robert Sobera attempts to clear the bar in the pole vault finals on Thursday, March 17, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Poland's Robert Sobera attempts to clear the bar in the pole vault finals on Thursday, March 17, 2016.

<p>American Sam Kendricks won the silver medal in the pole vault Thursday, March 17, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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American Sam Kendricks won the silver medal in the pole vault Thursday, March 17, 2016.

<p>Ajee' Wilson leads the pack in the women's 800 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Ajee' Wilson leads the pack in the women's 800 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Calvin Smith waits near the starting blocks in the men's 400 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Calvin Smith waits near the starting blocks in the men's 400 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Jeffrey Porter gets caught in the tape after Jarret Eaton won the men's 60-meter hurdles at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Jeffrey Porter gets caught in the tape after Jarret Eaton won the men's 60-meter hurdles at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Matthew Centrowitz celebrates his win in the men's 1,500 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Matthew Centrowitz celebrates his win in the men's 1,500 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Olympic gold-medalist Brittney Reese bows to the crowd following her women's long jump victory at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Olympic gold-medalist Brittney Reese bows to the crowd following her women's long jump victory at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12.

<p>Jessie Gaines in the sand after a long jump at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Jessie Gaines in the sand after a long jump at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>LaTisha Holden-Palmer falls near the finish of a women's 60-meter hurdles heat at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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LaTisha Holden-Palmer falls near the finish of a women's 60-meter hurdles heat at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Boris Berian, right, congratulates Erik Sowinski, in purple. Berian beat Sowinski in the men's 800 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Boris Berian, right, congratulates Erik Sowinski, in purple. Berian beat Sowinski in the men's 800 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>From left, Elvyonn Bailey, Kyle Clemons and David Verburg compete in the men's 400-meter dash semifinal at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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From left, Elvyonn Bailey, Kyle Clemons and David Verburg compete in the men's 400-meter dash semifinal at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Vashti Cunningham leaps over the bar in the high jump at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Vashti Cunningham leaps over the bar in the high jump at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Chaunte Lowe finds a moment alone at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Chaunte Lowe finds a moment alone at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12.

<p>Calvin Smith sets in the men's 400 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships Saturday, March 12, in Portland.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Calvin Smith sets in the men's 400 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships Saturday, March 12, in Portland.

<p>Shannon Leinert waves to the crowd before the finals in the women's 800 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Shannon Leinert waves to the crowd before the finals in the women's 800 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Sonja Friend-Uhl won the women's 1-mile in the masters division at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Sonja Friend-Uhl won the women's 1-mile in the masters division at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12.

<p>Galen Rupp competes in the men's 3,000 meters. The USATF Indoor Championships kicked off Friday, March 11, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Galen Rupp competes in the men's 3,000 meters. The USATF Indoor Championships kicked off Friday, March 11, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

<p>Colin Dunbar won the men's weight throw at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Friday, March 11, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Colin Dunbar won the men's weight throw at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Friday, March 11, 2016.

<p>Brianna Rollins celebrates after a women's 60-meter dash heat at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Friday, March 11, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Brianna Rollins celebrates after a women's 60-meter dash heat at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Friday, March 11, 2016.

<p>Sandi Morris celebrates her victory in the women's pole vault at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

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Sandi Morris celebrates her victory in the women's pole vault at the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

<p>Increasing youth participation in track and field is part of the Northwest track elite's efforts to make the region a destination for the sport.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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Increasing youth participation in track and field is part of the Northwest track elite's efforts to make the region a destination for the sport.

<p>High school students compete in the 4x400 meters relay during the IAAF World Indoor Championships for track and field in Portland on Friday, March 18, 2016.</p>

Emily Haugbro

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High school students compete in the 4x400 meters relay during the IAAF World Indoor Championships for track and field in Portland on Friday, March 18, 2016.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Bradley W. Parks