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Top-flight runners may take to Indy's downtown streets

February 28, 2015

As soon as next year, some of the world’s fastest sprinters and distance runners might compete in the shadows of Monument Circle and the Indiana War Memorial while pole vaulters and long jumpers soar past downtown skyscrapers.

USA Track & Field is working with British firm Nova International and the Indiana Sports Corp. to bring a unique outdoor track and field competition to downtown.

Nova International officials recently flew to Indianapolis to scout downtown and assess the possibility of hosting an event mirroring a “street” track and field competition Nova pioneered in England, USATF officials said.

Nova and USATF officials pinpointed an area bordered by Pennsylvania and Meridian streets about a block north of Monument Circle as the ideal spot for the competition, which is expected to draw an international field of athletes.

The event would likely encompass parts of University Park, Indiana War Memorial Plaza and Veteran’s War Memorial Plaza. Distance running events could incorporate Monument Circle.

Local event organizers also looked at locations including Indianapolis Motor Speedway and along Georgia Street, but prefer the area north of Monument Circle.

The local event would be patterned after The Great City Games, which were launched in Manchester in 2009 and have drawn some of the world’s top track and field competitors—including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt—and event-day crowds in excess of 30,000.

Events at the downtown competition would include sprints, hurdles, distance events and some field events including pole vault and long jump.

The track is essentially a 150- to 170-meter, four- to six-lane drag strip. Separate areas would host field events.

Meanwhile, distance events including a mile run would use walkways and city streets and finish in the drag strip area. The downtown Cultural Trail could be incorporated into the competition.

The England competition includes numerous spectator viewing areas and massive high-definition TVs.

If the event is held here, it’s not clear how much it would cost the city or other event organizers. Former Olympic runner Bob Kennedy said there would have to be a big prize purse or appearance fees to attract the best athletes.

Indiana Sports Corp. officials said they’d likely act as the host—as the organization does with Olympic trials—and USATF would be the sanctioning body. It’s not clear which organization would be responsible for paying for what.

It’s also unclear if the event would be free or ticketed. Street meets in England have been free and ticketed at various times—and sometimes with some free general admission and ticketed reserved areas.

Sports Corp. Senior Vice President Susan Baughman scouted the 2014 Great City Games in England to see if it would be a good fit for Indianapolis.

“Susan came back with very positive feedback,” said ISC CEO Ryan Vaughn. “We think it could be a really quality event here, a premiere event featuring the nation’s and some of the world’s top [track and field] athletes.”

Siegel Siegel

Track & Field CEO Max Siegel hopes to hold Indianapolis’ first street track and field event in the fall of 2016 on the heels of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“We’ve been working on this for several years and I feel very confident it’s going to happen,” Siegel said from USATF’s Indianapolis offices. “This year we’re closer than ever to making this happen.”

That’s a good time of year—right after the main part of the track and field season—to attract top athletes, said Kennedy, an Indianapolis resident.

First for U.S.

USA Track & Field initially contemplated holding the United States’ first street track and field meet in Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas or Indianapolis, Siegel said.

“I wanted to do it here because of course we’re based here,” Siegel said. “But also, the city’s central location, amenities and the layout of downtown made a lot of sense.”

If the event comes to fruition, it will be the first big-time track and field competition to be hosted by Indianapolis since the 2007 outdoor national championships at the IUPUI track and soccer stadium.

“We have a heritage of hosting big-time track and field events in this city and we’d love to re-engage in the sport,” Vaughn said.

The IUPUI stadium used to be a regular stop for national and international competition, but in recent years the track has fallen into disrepair, and now a deal to play Indy Eleven soccer games there further complicates hosting a major track meet.

Siegel sees great appeal to hosting a big-time track meet in the heart of downtown. USA Track & Field already has gotten interest from sponsors, and organization officials are working on a television contract, Siegel said.

“The whole idea is to take the sport to the streets, take it to the people,” Siegel said. “The athletes love it.”

Siegel, a former president of global operations at Dale Earnhardt Inc., said he learned a lot about the power of making a sport and athletes more accessible to the public through his experience with NASCAR.

The new track and field event is also another way to take the sports and the city of Indianapolis to the masses.

“This is definitely a made-for-TV event,” Siegel said. “We think there will be significant interest in this across the country.”

Siegel said USATF is talking to several potential broadcast partners including NBC, with which the sport governing body already has a relationship.

Greg Harger, who coaches an Indianapolis-based track and field team of Olympic hopefuls, thinks the event could raise the profile of the sport and its athletes in the United States.

“It’s an innovative idea, that’s for sure,” Harger said. “Anything that takes the sport to the people is great, and seeing these competitions in a setting different from a traditional track and field stadium can really give you new perspective on how incredible these athletes are. When you see a pole vaulter going up higher than a street light, that’s an awesome moment.”•

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