By Ken Stone
Updated at 11:50 a.m. May 2, 2018
In a stunning development Tuesday, USA Track & Field said it has canceled its 2020 Olympic Trials at Mt. San Antonio College and reopened bidding for the showcase meet.“The USATF Board of Directors unanimously authorized the move amid continuing litigation surrounding construction of a new Hilmer Lodge Stadium at (Mt. SAC) in Walnut, California, and the resulting delays on planning for a successful 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials,” USATF said in a statement.
Mt. SAC President William T. Scroggins said: “While we are disappointed, we accept that the terms of the agreement give USATF the authority to withdraw from this commitment.”
In June 2017, Mt. SAC was selected to host the 10-day event because of its long history of successfully holding world-class track and field events, Scroggins said in a statement.
USATF cited litigation from the City of Walnut and United Walnut Taxpayers as reasons for its decision.
But Scroggins said: “The two lawsuits that were mentioned have either been settled or ruled by a judge in our favor. We remain confident in our ability to deliver a completed stadium on time and a successful event.”
A January* 2019 trial date is still scheduled in the United Walnut Taxpayers suit, represented by San Diego attorney Craig Sherman.
UWT President Layla Abou-Taleb called the announcement “unexpected and unsettling.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Abou-Taleb repeated earlier remarks that the group was never opposed to Mt. SAC hosting the quadrennial track meet.
“We were against the use of Measure RR money for the stadium,” she said. “We started this litigation a long time before Mt. SAC bid on the 2020s. So it had nothing to do with it.”
In fact, the 30-year resident of Walnut said USATF never contacted her or her attorney — even as the City of Walnut settled its suit and UWT was open to settling as well.
“I’m baffled,” Abou-Taleb said. “I really don’t know why [USATF] made the decision initially to give it to Mt. SAC or why they made the decision at this point to withdraw it.”
Abou-Taleb, a member of the Walnut Valley Unified school board, also said she’s “pretty sure” Mt. SAC would be able to find alternative funding sources if the $87 million stadium project lost its bond-money stream.
With bidding reopened, the USATF Board of Directors will look to re-award the Olympic Trials no later than this June, the sports body said. The 2008, 2012 and 2016 Trials host — Hayward Field at the University of Oregon — is a possibility despite its own renovation issues. The 2000 and 2004 host was Sacramento State.
Michael Reilly, TrackTown USA CEO, was quoted as saying his Oregon group may try to take the baton.
“We’re very excited about the possibility of welcoming America’s best track and field athletes to the Eugene-Springfield community, to a beautiful new Hayward Field in 2020 as they pursue their Olympic dreams,” Reilly told Ken Goe of the Portland Oregonian.
Scroggins bemoaned the losses to the college, including financial commitments, relationships and thousands of hours of lost time.
“Most importantly, the entire Greater Los Angeles region will lose the economic impact of at least $37 million, which is what was generated in 2016,” he said.
Unfortunately, Mt. SAC will no longer be hosting the 2020 USA Olympic Trials for Track & Field. Read more in our statement. https://t.co/Rr3TY3oAob
— Mt. SAC (@MtSAC) May 1, 2018
He said the Mt. SAC Local Organizing Committee is ready to execute its plans to host the 2020 event should USATF reconsider its decision.
“Regardless, Mt. SAC looks forward to continuing our established positive relationship with USATF,” Scroggins said.
“Mt. SAC has always prided itself as providing service to the sport, hosting world-class events, like the Mt. SAC Relays and Cross Country Invitational for more than 60 years,” he said. “Our plans remain unchanged to build a stadium for our students and community, keep hosting great events, and continue to be the place “where the world’s best athletes compete.”
UWT leader Abou-Taleb, who learned of the USATF yanking of the Trials from a reporter, said her group doesn’t have a membership per se.
“But we have a lot of support in the Walnut community,” she said. “We’ve had donations from over 150 homes here in Walnut…. and surrounding communities that are concerned about the … use of bond money that was not clear to the taxpayers.”
She’s still hoping for a settlement with Mt. SAC.
“We’ve always made it clear to Mt. SAC that we want to live in peace,” she said. “This is a relationship that’s going to have to continue after this litigation. … I hope this is a learning curve for them and at some point we are able to sit down together and … readjust this relationship.”
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the UWT trial was set for June 2019.
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