Each spring, the University of Oregon hosts the Oregon Relays, one of the largest and most prestigious track and field meets in the Northwest. This year, there was even more hype, as the preparations for the US Olympic trials are underway at Hayward Field. Massive new temporary stands loom over the south side of the stadium. While they were closed off for Saturday's meet, their presence only served to enhance the 'big stage' atmosphere that such a meet holds.
"When you come to a place like this and a lot of these kids competed here in high school or always wanted to because they were out of state, I think it's kind of a jaw dropping experience," said Jerret Mantalas, Clackamas Community College cross country associate head coach. "The Olympic trials are gonna be here, the best of the best are gonna be competing. It's a pretty interesting dynamic, but we try to manage the chaos as much as possible and get out and compete and try to beat people."
Part of the chaos comes from the high profile feeling of the event, with many of the top athletes in the country competing in the meet. Adding to that is the overall buzz of the Oregon campus, with its dazzling buildings, nationally known athletic programs and the rich history of the venue itself.
The biggest difference between this meet and most others is the sheer number of people. While many track meets might draw a few hundred on a good day, the Oregon Relays has thousands in attendance, and they aren't shy about making themselves heard.
"The atmosphere is definitely different from most meets," said Brandon Sherier, who ran a personal best in the 800 meter run, and finished second just behind teammate Badane Sultessa. "Most meets it's just your parents there or a few people in the stands and here, it's full of people that all love track."
The roar of the crowd may have contributed to several highlight performances by Clackamas athletes, including the one-two finish by Sultessa and Sherier and a win in the 1500 meter run by Sultessa. The Cougars also saw huge improvement in the long jump by AJ Dickson, who jumped 22-07 for the second best mark in the NWAACC.
"Our men's 4x100, I think one of them said they ran almost a full second faster than they have all year," said Mantalas. "They ran really, really well and competed really, really well. They were in the hunt at least going into the last exchange and were in the hunt with some pretty damn good teams."
The Oregon Relays weren't the only track and field event happening on Saturday. Clackamas also hosted a meet of their own, one that according to head coach Keoni McHone, is one of the few destinations for athletes other than the meet in Eugene, and provides a good event for those not attending the Relays. Because of the number of Clackamas athletes down south, Clackamas didn't have much of a presence at the Cougar Open, which is held at Oregon City High School's Pioneer Stadium.
Much of the meet was dominated by Warner Pacific College, Concordia University and Corban University. Warner Pacific had an outstanding show in the men's high jump with Treavone Bowie taking first place with a height of 1.90 meters, followed by Connor Hart of Warner Pacific with a height of 1.85.
The men's shot put and hammer throw are where Concordia really shined, and they took both first and second in both of those events.
Jacob Ybarra of Corban took first in the men's triple jump with a jump of 13.20 meters and Jordan Hatfield took second with a jump of 13.02.
Other than a few strong showings by Concordia and Corban, Warner Pacific was the team to beat as they took first place finishes in a majority of the other events.
The most exciting event of the day was watching Ahrlin Bauman of Bowerman Athletic Club and Cesar Perez, unattached, compete in the men's 1500 meter run. Bauman had the lead for the most of the race until the last stretch. That's where Perez caught him and managed to take the lead for the win.
For Clackamas, the highlights came in the women's 1500 meter run and the women's hammer throw. Caitlyn Lewis won the women's 1500 with a seasonal best time of 5:15.67, and sophomore Katie Higgins won the women's hammer throw with a mark just shy of her seasonal best at 46.62 meters.
Up next for Clackamas is the Pacific Twilight, which will be hosted at Pacific University on April 27-28.