The University of Oregons Hayward Field is considered the unofficial home of U.S. track and field.
The history is deep and rich, from hosting four U.S. Olympic Trial meets to a litany of other major events to some pioneers of the sport who once called it home.
Brady Gehret has been there once before, as a 16-year-old at the U.S. Junior National Championship meet, where he ran the open 400-meter dash for the first time.
Hes back there today, and the stakes are a little higher.
The Penn State sophomore and Altoona native is set to run at the U.S. Olympic Trials along with a group of other Nittany Lion athletes hoping to qualify for the summer games in London.
Im definitely going to be nervous, but I like to use that to my advantage, Gehret said by phone Wednesday from Eugene. I like the excitement. I think it actually helps more than anything.
Gehret is there thanks to a strong spring season, when he picked up a Big Ten title, finished sixth at the NCAA outdoor championships and third at the indoor meet and posted the second-best time in school history in the 400. His time of 45.22 seconds at last months Big Ten meet is just 0.02 off a program record that has stood since 1975.
All that was against college competition, but now the track will host some of the best in the world. Gehrets season-best time is 14th in the list of entries for the 400, which begins a little past 6 p.m. today with the preliminary round.
He has to advance through that, Saturdays semifinals and Sundays finals for his shot at London.
He will also have to go through an entry list that includes seven runners who have turned in times under 45 seconds this year, including Jeremy Wariner, a four-time Olympic medalist who won the 2004 gold, and top-seeded LaShawn Merritt, whose top time (44.19) is more than a second faster than Gehret.
Its a great opportunity to run with the best in the world, really, said Gehret, who also will be running against some familiar competition, with six runners seeded ahead of him who also ran at the NCAA meet earlier this month.
That was my goal the whole year to compete with those guys, Gehret said. Ive already run with them, Ive run with them all year, so its not going to be anything different for these trials.
What he hopes to do is recapture what he had at the Big Ten meet and forget his performance in the NCAA final. He knows a time in the 44-second range is within his capabilities.
The finals, I just really didnt run my race, said Gehret, who is also a provisional qualifier for the 200, which will be run later next week. The time reflected it. But Im excited about this one and Ill definitely run it different than I did for the NCAA finals.
A good sign for that was what he did with three teammates the next day in the 1,600-meter relay. The Nittany Lions took fourth in that event, and Gehret ran a 44.29 split on his leg meaning he might do better this weekend if he could carry a baton.
That is what I was supposed to do at nationals, he said. It just never really happened for me. The plan out here is to go 44 and see what happens.
While he is realistic about the competion, the goal is to get into the top three to make it to London, or at least top six to be in the pool of runners for the 4x400 relay.
Hes going for it at a place that bills itself as Track Town USA, with a local fan-base that loves the sport. The stadium held the Olympic Trials in 2008 as well as three others in the 1970s and 80s, and was once home to Bill Bowerman (Nike co-founder and former Oregon coach) and 1970s distance star Steve Prefontaine.
Its the one place that you want to go to run, Gehret said. I cant wait for the atmosphere to just happen. Being the Olympic Trials makes it that much more exciting.
Gehret is one of a slew of Nittany Lions past and present who will be hitting the track and runways at Hayward Field.
Also competing tonight are Bekka Simko and Casimir Loxsom in the 800-meter preliminaries. Loxsom has the eighth-best seeded time heading into the race.
On Saturday, a trio of Penn State shot putters are all in the hunt for Olympic berths. Joe Kovacs, who just completed his senior season, will be joined by alumnus Blake Eaton and volunteer assistant coach Ryan Whiting, who enters the weekend as the events top seed.
On Monday, alumnus Bridget Franek runs in the 3,000-meter steeplechase preliminaries, and later next week Penn State product Karlee McQuillan will be competing in the javelin. They are seeded second and sixth, respectively, and Franek ran in the World Championships in 2009 and 2011. Current Nittany Lions Laura Loht and State Colleges Lauren Kenney also have provisionally qualified for the javelin field, but USA Track and Field has not yet set the list.
It makes the experience a lot easier, Gehret said of having so many teammates in Eugene. Were all here together, doing this all at the same time. Its good to have people here you know so you can relax and talk to them.
Should any Nittany Lions qualify for London, they will find another one in a different uniform sprinter Shana Cox is now a British citizen and has qualified with the host country.
The contingent in Eugene also includes another local runner State College High School cross country coach Rebecca Donaghue will be running at 10:20 tonight in the 10,000 meters.
Gordon Brunskill can be reached at 231-4608.