With ongoing renovations, Hayward Field is being entirely rebuilt to host the 2021 IAAF World Championships. Now the single most important location for track and field in the United States, how did Hayward evolve from a small dirt-filled football stadium into the wonder it is today?
In 1919, the University of Oregon built Hayward Field to replace Kincaid Field as the home of Oregon football. It was named for Bill Hayward, a longtime track and football coach. Oregon played on dirt and sawdust until 1937, when a natural grass field was finally installed. Despite the field’s current reputation for track, the track team at Oregon would continue to call Kincaid home until 1921. That year, a six-lane cinder track was constructed surrounding Hayward.
As a football stadium, Hayward was not well-regarded. Its surface drained poorly, and despite the school’s best efforts, the playing field often turned into a mud fest. While its iconic wooden bleachers would eventually come to be renowned, the grandstands were too small for football at Oregon. By the mid 1960’s, Oregon would play many of their “home” games in Portland–a hundred and ten miles away. That led to the opening of Autzen Field in 1967, and subsequently, Hayward Field became solely a track and field venue in 1970.
It was during this period that the legend of Hayward began to take off. Not that Hayward and Oregon Track as a whole had little success before–far from it. Bill Hayward himself and later coaches Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger would bring great success to the program. But it was the arrival of a certain runner and the creation of a certain company that would take not just Hayward, but running itself to the next level.
Steve Prefontaine arrived Oregon’s campus in 1969. During his time at Oregon as a collegiate and post-collegiate runner, he would set the American record in every event from two thousand to ten thousand meters and finish fourth in the five thousand meters at the Olympic Games in Munich before his death in 1975. At Oregon, Prefontaine would be one of the earliest to endorse a new “waffle-iron” style of running shoe made by Oregon coach Bill Bowerman and runner Phil Knight and their company, Nike.
The success of Prefontaine, Nike, and other factors would thrust both running and Hayward Field into the limelight during the 1970s. As running grew, Nike grew, and they began to dedicate more and more money to supporting Oregon Track and Hayward Field. Upgrades became frequent and increasingly bigger meets were held at Hayward, culminating in the upcoming 2021 IAAF World Championships.
In order to host the 2021 Worlds, the University of Oregon made the controversial decision to tear down the existing Hayward Field and build a new “glass bowl” stadium on the current site while keeping the name. Some argued that removing the iconic wooden grandstands and dramatically increasing the capacity of the stadium would cause it to lose its “Hayward Magic.”
At the same time, others pushed for and funneled money into the new project, saying it would bring even bigger things to Oregon and that it would allow for more stories to be told and new legends to be built, rather than have them live in the shadow of history. Many boosters pledged money for the new stadium, including–you guessed it–Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
Whatever the future might hold for Hayward Field, you can be sure that it will continue to play a role in the history and culture of American track and field as it has for nearly a century.
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