Oregon State Track & Field
This summer there was some major track & field news from the state of Oregon. No, I am not talking about the USA Championships, Prefontaine Classic or any of the other meets that took place at Hayward Field in Eugene. I’m talking about Corvalis, Oregon, home of Oregon State University. When your neighbor to the south is Track Town USA (Eugene) and your rival school is the University of Oregon, it’s easy to not be noticed. That’s probably how Corvalis and Oregon State University feel. But maybe any feelings of inferiority are about to go
Oregon State was a strong program in the 1960’s, winning the men’s NCAA cross country championship in 1961 and dominating in the high jump the way the University of Oregon continues to dominate in the distance events. Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized the high jump with his Fosbury Flop technique, competed for the Oregon State Beavers on his way to the gold medal in the high jump at the 1968 Olympics.
But in 1988, the school decided to drop men’s and women’s cross country and track & field. For the next sixteen years, the Pac-10 conference was really the Pac-9 conference in those sports. A generation of kids grew up never seeing an Oregon State athlete compete in the orange and black school colors in cross country or track & field.
In 2004, the school brought back the women’s program but not the men’s program. Since their return the Beavers have had solid cross country team finishes of sixth at the 2008 Pac-10 Championships and ninth at the 2008 and 2009 NCAA Western Regional Meet.
Head Coach Kelly Sullivan has spearheaded a campaign to build a track on-campus to raise the exposure and quality of the team (they currently practice at Corvallis High School). Part of the campaign includes raising money to reinstate the men’s program and to construct a national class cross country course.
In the spring of 2010, some Oregon State football players with track & field experience helped bring attention to Oregon State. Jordan Bishop, a wide receiver on the Oregon State football team, who was an Oregon high school state champion in the long jump and runner-up in the high jump and 400 meters, asked if he could compete in an indoor meet in the high jump. In his first meet, he won the Husky Classic with a jump of 7’0.5”, and became just the eighth athlete in school history to clear seven feet. Throughout February and March of 2010, after their spring football workouts, eight athletes joined Bishop at track practice. Other football athletes competed in the high jump and 60 meter events. This was the first male Oregon State representation at a track meet in twenty-two years. At the 2010 NCAA Championships that were held in Eugene, Bishop placed ninth in the high jump to earn All-American status.
Oregon State football coach Mike Riley deserves mention for his support of the track & field program. Not only does he allow his football athletes to compete in track & field, he has been vocal in his desire for Oregon State to have a men’s track & field team. Riley has stated that he lost out on recruits who chose to attend a different school because Oregon State did not offer track & field, so there was no chance for them to compete in both sports.
On June 14, 2011, groundbreaking began on a new track facility on the Oregon State campus. University of Oregon dignitaries Vin Lananna and Tom and Janet Heinonen were on-hand to lend support to their in-state rivals. Fosbury, who is chairman of the committee to bring back men’s track & field, was there with a ceremonial shovel in hand. There’s even been talk that the stadium should be named Fosbury Field.
It’s the first of multiple phases, but hopefully this is the start of Oregon State’s return to prominence in cross country and track & field.