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World Indoor meet is on the clock


TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Portland Mayor Charlie Hales admires the countdown clock he just unveiled Wednesday at Pioneer Courthouse Square. The clock will show the days, hours, minutes and seconds remaining until the IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships take place in Portland next March.The biggest track and field meet ever in Portland history is now on the clock -- literally.

Mayor Charlie Hales on Wednesday unveiled a locally made, 19 feet tall, 3,945-pound digital clock in Pioneer Courthouse Square that will count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds remaining before the start of the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships.

The World Indoor is set for March 17-20, with three days of competition at the Oregon Convention Center after a free-to-the-public pole vault on Thursday, March 17 at Moda Center.

Hales joined some of track and field's biggest names and top officials for Wednesday's public celebration, which came on the same day as the City Council's 5-0 approval of a new budget that includes $1.9 million of support for the meet.

"You can feel the excitement here," Hales said, surveying the 1,000-plus people who came to hear speeches, listen to music, be informed and be part of the buildup to a four-day event that will bring more than 600 athletes from as many as 214 countries to Portland.

It will be the first IAAF world championship in the United States since Indianapolis played host to the world indoor in 1987.

"This is a great fit for who we are as a community," Hales said.

A small but steady line of fans bought tickets at the square — a shrewd move, as sales begin online worldwide on Thursday, and seats are expected to go fast.

Tim Chamberlain, a tech support specialist who lives in Portland, was among those buying a total-meet package for a spot in the temporary, 7,000-seat OCC facility ($385 for lower bowl, $295 for bleachers along the straightaways, $225 for bleachers in the turns).

"I ran track at Catlin Gabel and Wheaton College (near Boston). I love track," he said. "I was just at the spring beer festival at the convention center. I can't wait to see what it looks like for this."

Portland attorney Jim Hiller also was there to get tickets.

"This (meet) is a big deal," he said. "I was surprised to learn it was coming here. I'm still surprised. But I think that's the power of Nike. If you're a track fan, this is the top."

Hiller, who also is going to Eugene for the annual Prefontaine Classic on Friday and Saturday, grew up in New York.

"Indoor was probably bigger than outdoor back there," he said, recalling the annual Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden and other events. "When I ran track, we had a long indoor season."

The throng at the square on Wednesday included track and field team members from Grant and Lincoln high schools.

"I'm trying to get my dad to buy me some tickets," said Grant junior Harrison Schrage, who successfully defended his Class 6A long jump championship last weekend at Hayward Field.

Schrage has experience with indoor track and field himself. He placed third this year and fifth the year before at the New Balance nationals at the Armory in New York City.

Lincoln senior Emma Lambert, who was third in the state 300-meter hurdles last week and helped the Cardinals score in both relays, is headed to Seattle Pacific in September and will run there, "but I'm really hoping I can get back here in March to see this meet."

Hales said the world meet is a natural for Portland for several reasons.

"We're a city that lives its values," he said, listing recreation, fitness and the health of Portland's youth as among those priorities.

"We're a small city with a worldwide reputation," Hales added. "We want Portland to be a small town, which we achieve with our sense of community, but there are also roles appropriate for us to play in the world as an outdoors-minded city and world leader in track and field."

Vin Lananna, the TrackTown USA president and former University of Oregon coach who led the successful bid for the World Indoor, thanked city officials and citizens for "supporting our vision" to serve as host.

"Today, we are all citizens of TrackTown USA," he said. "We welcome anyone who likes to lay it on the line or cheer for others who choose to lay it on the line."

Another theme of the day was how the Portland event will give a glimpse into what could happen at the 2016 Summer Olympics track and field meet in Rio de Janeiro.

"The road to Rio will start here in Portland," Lananna said.

Olha Saladukha, 2012 Olympic women's triple jump bronze medalist from Ukraine, echoed those thoughts.

""It's a good opportunity before the Olympic Games," she said of the world indoor. "I want to show good results and take the gold medal."

Canada's Sheila Reid, a 2012 Olympian middle-distance runner who recently moved to Oregon, agreed that the '16 world indoor will be a key in determining who is on track for success in Rio.

"This is going to be a huge preview for the Olympics," she said. "It's going to be tense. It's going to set the tone."

Portland and the convention center also will be the site of the 2016 U.S. Indoor championships March 11-12. That competition will determine U.S. qualifiers for the World Indoor the following week.

Lananna said Portland fans will be the 'X factor' for U.S. athletes, because "when you are cheering your loudest, the athletes are going to perform their best."

The U.S. and world meets, Lananna predicted, will "create an electric atmosphere like has never been seen before in the great sport of track and field."

Max Segel, CEO of USA Track and Field, said the world indoor will be a "great experience" for U.S. athletes as well as officials and volunteers.

Pioneer Courthouse Square will be a center of attention during the world meet, too, with awards ceremonies scheduled to take place there.

Handfuls of world-class track and field athletes, including several world and Olympic champions, were there on Wednesday to help drum up enthusiasm and awareness.

Above the stage at the square was a pole vault bar -- set at 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches, the height of the world record set by France's Renaud Lavillenie, who took the stage with other athletes and emcee Jordan Kent, the former UO multi-sport star-turned-broadcaster.

Ranked No. 1 in the world for the past five years, Lavillenie said the Portland world meet will be "crazy -- a really good thing."

Clearing 20 feet "is very symbolic," he said, "and I'm really proud for doing that, and my goal is try to go higher."

Bernard Lagat, the 40-year-old U.S. distance running household name from Kenya, said he was coming out of retirement to compete in Portland.

"Let me tell you, it's really, really exciting that we can come here and compete at home," he said of U.S. athletes.

Lagat, a 13-time medalist at the Olympics and world championships with five world golds, vowed to make the U.S. team again.

"I'm going to be here. It's going to be awesome," he said.

Sally Kipyego, the Kenyan/Oregon Track Elite club runner and 2012 Olympic 10,000 silver medalist, was one of many athletes who said that what will make the 2016 world indoor special and memorable are the Oregon fans.

"They really understand the sport," she said, "and for an athlete, there's nothing like having fans who understand the sport."