Tourism officials in the city of Eugene have a message for their colleagues on the Coast: The runners are coming and you’d best be ready.

Those runners — and other track and field athletes from around the globe — are part of the highly anticipated World Athletic Championships, which will be held in Eugene, aka TrackTown, from August 6-15, 2021. The event is expected to draw a significant number of visitors, many of whom will want to visit the Coast.

“We will have close to 2,000 athletes from virtually every country around the planet,” says Kari Westlund, President and CEO of Travel Lane County.

In its 18th year in 2021, the global event has never before been held in the United States and is one of the most illustrious competitions under the purview of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Nearly 2,000 athletes from 214 countries will compete in field sports ranging from long jump, high jump and hammer throw to track races from 100 to 10,000 meters. The World Athletic Championships will be produced by Oregon21, LLC, a Eugene-based organization.

Westlund expects the demand for spectators’ lodging to extend past Eugene and the surrounding towns of Corvallis, Albany and Salem during the 10-day event.

“We do think there will be compression all the way to Coast and up to Portland,” she says. “We have had a number of calls from international operators who want sizable room blocks.”

She says spectators will likely extend their trips to Oregon for up to three weeks.

“There will be a ton of visitation to the Coast,” she says. “The number one trip motivator of people coming to Oregon is our beautiful coastline.”

Coast towns closest to Eugene — like Florence — are likely to feel the impact first. And Coos Bay, as the birthplace of University of Oregon’s famous running alum Steve Prefontaine, is certain to draw many a running pilgrim.

Coos Bay already has much to offer visitors curious about its most famous resident, according to Janice Langlinais, Executive Director of the Coos Bay – North Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau. A three-panel mural across two buildings downtown depicts Prefontaine in high school, college and the Olympics. A sculpture outside the Coos Bay Visitor Information Center honors him, and the Coos Art Museum has an entire room dedicated to this memory. Prefontaine’s sister Linda, who lives in town, offers small group tours that she calls Tour De Pre.

“There is a lot to see of him here,” Langlinais says.

Coos Bay is slated to host an athlete training camp at Southwestern Oregon Community College. Langlinais is also well aware that the lodging needs of the World Athletic Championships could extend to Coos Bay for the duration of the games as well as before and after. She says she’s alerting hotels to help them plan ahead.

“We could potentially have international visitors here for a month and a half, which is very exciting for us,” she says. “We want the community to start thinking about the fact that we will be on somebody’s map.”

It’s fitting that this prestigious international event will be held in Eugene, with its storied track and field program, historic connection to Nike, and long running events like the Olympic Track and Field Trials and the annual Prefontaine Classic, one of the premier track and field events in the United States. The city has also seen the recent renovation historic Hayward Field, which will host as many as 30,000 fans daily during the 10-day event.

Event organizers are also responsible to house IAAF members, event officials, sponsors and international media — an estimated 13,500 people. Many will be hosted at an athletes’ village on the University of Oregon campus, which will tap into newly built and renovated dorms as well as private housing complexes.

Travel Lane County is poised to assist as plans move forward.

“Like any convention or sports event coming to our destination, Travel Lane County sees Oregon21 as both a client and a stakeholder,” Westlund says. “We want to support the planning and logistical operations of the event to the best of our ability, serve our and Oregon21’s mutual customers — participants and attendees of the event — and help ensure a win-win for the event and the community and destination.”

Westlund’s advice to Coast towns is to plan with an eye to legacy projects. Instead of spending time and energy on one-offs for this particular event, she says the focus should be on initiatives that will make a town a better place to visit and live far into the future.

“We are encouraging everyone to plan with a legacy filter,” she says. “That is always going to be money well spent.”

Founded in 1912 and headquartered in Monaco since 1993, the IAAF oversees the Olympics, Junior Olympics, World Cross Country Championships and World Half Marathon Championships among other highly competitive series. Information about the 2021 World Athletic Championships, including volunteer opportunities and pre-event athlete training camps, will be available soon at the website.

By Eileen Garvin

Photo courtesy of Oregon’s Adventure Coast.