By Ken Stone
The president of track and field’s U.S. governing body had a calm outlook Sunday in laid-back San Diego when asked about threats to two major meets coming up, including one near Los Angeles.
Vin Lananna, head coach of Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said he hasn’t thought at all about a lawsuit that could delay work on a new stadium slated to host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
But after meeting with a dozen local athletes and officials at Milestone Running shop, the Oregon associate athletic director said: “All I know about it is what I’ve read.”
“There’ll be discussions that happen between [the] national office and that local organizing committee and that university to be able to determine whether it’s really something they should be worried about,” Lananna said after an hour-long chat inside the North Park shoe store off El Cajon Boulevard.
But the former Oregon and Stanford coach, 64, was more queasy about how a potential Donald Trump travel ban would hurt foreign athletes in 2021 coming to his home of Eugene, Oregon, for the IAAF world meet — its first time on U.S. soil.
“Whether it’s a travel ban, it’s financial — whatever the issues are — those will be things that we’ll be watching closely,” he said. “All of us [who] work in that arena are worried about any travel ban or anything that could impact [the meet] — any legislation.”
He called the U.S. political climate “a bit concerning,” but is relieved the meet is still four years away.
“I think if it was happening this year, I’d be a bit more concerned about it,” he said.
Even so, current major track meets in America have encountered problems bringing top foreign athletes, he suggested.
“It’s been difficult, I understand, for other meets in the United States with the process of getting visas — not just for those countries that have been identified, but even for all the countries,” he said. “The process has become a little cumbersome.”
Earlier Sunday, surrounded by shoe displays and sitting on a folding black wooden chair set out by co-owner Chad Crawford, Lananna spent a half-hour chatting with a few local coaches and athletes, plus Craig Poole, former director of the U.S. Olympic Training Center’s resident athlete program in Chula Vista.
Lananna said he’s been to at least 20 of USATF’s 57 local associations on his “listening tour,” which included a scheduled appearance Sunday afternoon at the annual meeting of the Southern California Association in Santa Fe Springs.
His goal, he said, is building the current 130,000 membership into a million strong — especially as the Los Angeles Games near in 2028.
“Shame on us if we don’t capitalize” on the attention that major events like the IAAF world meet bring to the sport, said Lananna, inducted into the track coaches Hall of Fame in 2012.
He said USATF, if it “plays our cards right,” can tap national pride in the U.S. track team to grow the little-appreciated sport. “Think about how great that would be.”
(He didn’t mention the drought-ending victory minutes earlier by former Oregon Duck Galen Rupp at the Chicago Marathon.)
Citing soccer as an example — he was at Stanford when America hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup games there — Lananna said track and field could get a similar bump.
“I watched 75,000 people pour into Stanford Stadium, he said, adding: “Look what women’s soccer did” when the American team won the World Cup in 1999 (and again in 2015).
He told the story of attending a “long, long track meet” in January at the Armory venue in New York City, where he rook a break in the lobby near a huge 15-by-20-foot USATF banner.
Lananna asked 20 or 30 kids “so is this a USATF meet?” Despite the banner’s tip-off presence, they didn’t know.
“One had a USATF shirt on, but still didn’t know what it [represented],” Lananna said.
As 10 a.m. approached, the meeting broke up. Store owner Crawford said they needed to clear out for a yoga class.
The president of the world’s No. 1 track team, wearing stylish shades and a Nike-branded polo shirt, took his tour outside.
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