Are the Oregon Olympics Uncle Phil’s Endgame?

As the debate rages on about the size and scope of the new Hayward Field, it got me thinking about what was going through the mind of the man who matters the most in all of this—Phil Knight.

Could it be that building the world’s premier track-and-field-only stadium brings Oregon one step closer to hosting The Summer Olympic Games? Track and Field is the centerpiece event at the summer games, so matching the premier track and field stadium with the premier track and field city, with the premier track and field apparel company in its very own backyard, would seemingly be a dream come true.

I want to believe that the Oregon Olympics are in Phil Knight’s playbook. I’ve never heard anything about it; it’s a theory. If it were to happen, Knight will most likely have passed. But Knight could set up a trust and leave it to his heirs to fulfill this “dream.” And of course, such a grand task would require the cooperation and desire of a “little” organization known as the State of Oregon, along with several cities, towns and municipalities.

Knight wouldn’t pay for the whole thing, of course. The price tag for the Olympics is more than what even the uber-rich can cover. But “The Knight Oregon Olympics Foundation” could kick things off with a nice down payment to survey, plan and promote such an idea. In other words, he could get the ball rolling and be the brains behind it all.

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The 2040 Oregon Olympic Games has a certain ring to it. It would be Uncle Phil’s greatest gift of all.

The New Hayward Field

Some folks, of course, are freaking out about the magnitude of the the facility: that it’s bloated, gaudy and almost downright offensive.

“It’s not what Bill Bowerman would have wanted!” they clamor.

Oh really?

Guys who pour black tar into waffle irons as a desperate means to create something better—while exposing themselves to deadly toxic chemicals—aren’t the kind of guys who are satisfied with the status quo. They’re desperate for something better.

Another man doesn’t take that idea and turn it into a billion dollar industry because he’s happy with things in little ole Mayberry (Eugene), USA.

I’m not so sure Bowerman wouldn’t be saying something like, “Let’s rip this old hunk of junk down, because we have the opportunity to do something better.”

That’s the Oregon spirit.

Let’s not forget those who were afraid of the losing the atmosphere and mystique of Mac Court. Since it was replaced, the Oregon men’s basketball team has only gone on to have its greatest run of success, topped off with a Final Four season last year and its best ever recruiting class (No. 2 nationally). Mac Court was an amazing place to us in Eugene, but to outsiders, it was a big piece of crap.

Its time, like that of Hayward Field, had come. Bigger and better things await.  The people who are caught up in the nostalgia of Hayward Field, and quite frankly Eugene, need to get over it. They’re the types who would’ve bought into (or did buy into) former Oregon Governor Tom McCall’s infamous “Come visit, don’t stay” policy. That slogan was selfish and stupid, with no thought of tomorrow, no thought of the future.

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What history tells us is that replacing old and sentimental facilities with first-class new ones leads to great things.

Change, innovation, staying ahead of the competition and most importantly, winning—this is what Knight and Bowerman are about. Life isn’t about living in yesterday. Shoes evolve, training methods evolve, industries evolve, sports evolve, athletes evolve, towns evolve, stadiums evolve and … Oregon evolves!

Logistics

The Oregon Olympics would stretch from Portland, down along I-5, to Eugene. Salem and Corvallis would also be key players. With the New Hayward Field and the increasing likelihood of Major League Baseball placing a team in Portland, Oregon is looking good from a facilities standpoint.

The Oregon Olympics would be spread over a landscape that consists of two major universities, several colleges, a pro basketball team (with two arenas), a pro soccer team and a soon-to-be a pro baseball team. Temporary seating could be added to Autzen’s north side for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Some might argue that this would be too spread out. To that I’ll say this: Portland to Eugene is 110 miles, about a one hour and 45 minute drive. Los Angeles has the games in 2028. Downtown LA to Anaheim is only 25 miles, but depending on the time of day, it can take over two hours to drive. The point is, it’s all relative.

Sure, there would be infrastructure challenges, but every host faces that. Maybe this is a chance for light rail supporters to get their train. Or, most likely, a revamped and expanded I-5 of the future would be the result.

Of course, hosting the Olympic games is increasingly becoming a risky business venture for the host. But a lot of that comes down to the quality of those in charge of organizing the event. If done right, it can be highly beneficial economically. The 2018 Winter Olympics are expected to inject almost $60 billion into the South Korean economy over the next decade (per the Hyundai Research Institute).

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For Oregon to host the 2040 Olympic games, the beloved East Grandstand would have to go.

And, with a billionaire’s resources backing the event, we might feel better about any potential overruns should they occur. And who knows? Maybe another billionaire with Oregon ties, Paul Allen, might want to get involved. I mean, we’re only talking about history here, and what filthy rich guy doesn’t like to be on the winning side of history?

It’s Who We Are

Some would try to sell us on the idea that Oregon is just this place where occasionally great things happen, and then we sit around on our hands, reminiscing about those glory days. But that’s not what Oregon and its “school of the future” are really all about.

And that’s because, as Knight well knows, great things don’t come to those stuck in the past, they come to those looking to the future.

Maybe the new Hayward Field is bloated, overdone, overkill, gaudy. But you know what? It’s also very Oregon. It’s who we are: Embrace it or be satisfied living in yesterday.

Oregon becoming all “grown up” doesn’t mean we’ve sold our souls. It means we’ve evolved into what we were meant to be, we’ve fulfilled our destiny.

As much as we’d like our kids to stay kids forever, there comes a day when they finally grow up, they become their own person, they move out and a father gives his daughter away.

And I couldn’t imagine a grander ending to the work of Phil Knight than to have him smiling down from the heavens upon the Oregon Olympics … and giving away his baby into the arms of posterity.

Darren Perkins
Spokane, WA

Top photo credit: Wikipedia and Randy “Space Ace” Richichi

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