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It’s been a long dry spell—long enough for the country’s most historic track facility to emerge from the pandemic with an entirely new, state-of-the-art look. Olympic hopefuls are heading to Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, to compete on Saturday at the U.S.A. Track & Field Grand Prix, starting the big push toward the 2021 Olympic Trials.
It’s the pro racing debut of the new facility at the University of Oregon that cost an estimated $270 million, paid for in private donations and by Phil Knight, cofounder of Nike, and his wife, Penny. The construction of the new nine-lane track took about two years and increased spectator capacity to up to 25,000 fans, with permanent seating for 12,650. The facility has upgraded locker rooms, covered practice areas for all disciplines, physical therapy spaces, a barber shop, manicure and pedicure services, a theater, lounge, anti-gravity treadmills, hydrotherapy, and more.
Although local COVID-19 safety has yet to allow many (if any) spectators into Hayward, the track is still race ready and will host the 2021 Olympic Track & Field Trials from June 19–27.
Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher is also making a debut on Saturday, as an NBC analyst during the broadcast of the Grand Prix as well as the Drake Relays, happening in Des Moines, Iowa.
How to watch the USATF Grand Prix pro races
Three of Saturday’s women’s races and athletes we have our eyes on (all times are EDT):
5,000 meters (4:42 p.m.)
Sara Hall has made big moves at the marathon, becoming the second-fastest woman ever at the distance at the Marathon Project (2:20:32), but she hasn’t raced on a track since the 2016 Olympic Trials, when she placed 14th in the 5,000 meters. She’s made clear, at 38 years old, that she intends to line up for the 10,000 meters at the Trials for her seventh shot at making the Games (she dropped out of the marathon Trials in February 2020). On Saturday she’s scheduled to take on the 5,000 meters and she’ll likely have the Olympic Trials qualifier as her objective (15:20) and the Olympic standard (15:10). The start list also includes Jessica Hull (14:43.80) of Australia and Eilish McColgan (14:46.17) of Great Britain. Abby Cooper, a 2016 Olympian in the 5,000 meters who fell while racing in Rio, will also compete and needs her Olympic Trials qualifying time.
1500 meters (5:12 p.m.)
Jenny Simpson is scheduled to return to race her event for the first time since the 2019 world championships. Simpson, 34, won the bronze in Rio, the first American woman to medal in the event. On Saturday she lines up against Laura Muir of Great Britain and Americans Nikki Hiltz, who also competed at the 2019 world championships; Dani Jones, who recently turned pro after graduating from the University of Colorado; and Sage Hurta, the 2021 indoor mile NCAA champ, also from the University of Colorado.
800 meters (6:18 p.m.)
Raevyn Rogers (1:57.69), the 2019 world championships silver medalist, is racing for the first time this season. She’ll compete against Jemma Reekie (1:58.63) of Great Britain and Melissa Bishop (1:57.01) of Canada. Kate Grace (1:58.28), the reigning U.S. Olympic Trials champion in the 800 meters is also racing, her first appearance since switching training groups from the Bowerman Track Club to Team Boss in Colorado.