It’s like a kind of mini-Olympic village that would be entirely devoted to athletics. On the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene, the city where former students invented the Nike shoe brand in the 1960s, the best athletes on the planet have gathered from Friday until Sunday 24 July.
In the midst of the few students who stayed during the summer, but also the public and the press, we come across athletes of various and varied sizes, who all wear their uniforms in the colors of their respective countries. An anonymous, supersonic walker who tumbles down an alley. Clusters of young athletes who come together by nation. And stars who walk around almost anonymously, undisturbed.
Tuesday, a few hours before the final of the 400 meters hurdles, the exuberant Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tambieri applauded on his way the Norwegian Karsten Warholm, world record holder of the specialty.
The day before, we had come across a strong guy – the Polish Pawel Fajdek – who was pulling an imposing suitcase, no doubt weighed down by a fifth world gold medal in a row that he had won on Saturday in the hammer throw final. Or another medalist, the Spaniard Asier Martinez, third in the 110-meter hurdles, ring in his ear and the appearance of a trendy young man as one would come across in Barcelona or Madrid.
“It’s a mini-village, we feel good here”
All delegations sleep in campus buildings. With the exception of the United States team, which requisitioned a more comfortable hotel outside. The rooms are more or less comfortable, often they are dormitories. And even the stars put up with it. “I don’t want to be choosy, but when I go to a competition, I prefer to sleep in a good hotel. The mattress I have in my room, I wouldn’t have it at home, honestlyjoked the star Warholm to the newspaper El Mundo before playing his final, where he took seventh place. But that’s okay, it’s only a few days, and in the end I’ll sleep anywhere. »
Ex-glories also met for the event. Many comment for television channels: from the American Sanya Richards-Rosse (quadruple Olympic champion), to the Trinidadian Ato Boldon or even to Michael Johnson, former king of the 200 and 400 meters. A journalist colleague even had the opportunity to exchange a few words with a legend: the ex-runner John Carlos, who had raised a fist gloved in black on the podium of the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 to protest against racial segregation underway in the United States.
A little before the discus throw qualifications, the French Mélina Robert-Michon, 43, was waiting on a piece of sidewalk. “I like the fact that we are all mixed together in the same place, it’s a mini-villageshe says. The proximity of the stadium, it avoids wasted time in the shuttles. After the years we had, it feels good. We feel good here. »
Young 800-meter runner, Belgian Eliott Crestant, 23, is competing in his first Worlds. “Compared to the Games, where you couldn’t do anything, it’s paradise”, he points out. This student in Brussels is fascinated by the infrastructure of the university – “top of the top” – and appreciates the public of connoisseurs: “The atmosphere is relaxed. You go everywhere easily. When you run, you say hello to everyone. In Belgium, it is not so. »
In town, the stands dedicated to the various equipment manufacturers are flourishing. And, more surprisingly, religious stalls were set up. Reed, a local, is surprised at first – ” it is not common ” – and have fun: “We have two religions, running and Christianity. We run and we go to church. Or better yet, we run out of the church. » The religion of the area is still above all that of running.
The local brand, Nike, displays on large panels its desire to proselytize: “Come to run with us”. And this father who jogs with a stroller in one hand and pulling a lazy husky with the other illustrates this perfectly.
The university shop offers clothing for the 2022 Worlds but above all the branded accessories of its multiple sports teams, in green and yellow colors. In the Hayward Field stadium, built with millions (about 270 million) by Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike, these colors dominate. We are above all a supporter of the university before being a supporter of Team USA. So when Devon Allen – a former local American football player – was disqualified for a false start in the 110-meter hurdles final, the public rumbled.
Inside the stadium, the atmosphere is good-natured and cool. There are people, without large crowds, since the enclosure is modest (less than 13,000 seats). We encourage the American athletes, who have triumphed since the start of the competition (six gold medals, five silver medals and eight bronze medals, total stopped on July 20) but we are especially on fire for the running races, for which the nationals are not however favourites. In the 1,500 meters final on Tuesday evening, Englishman Jake Wightman’s victory over Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen proved to be one of the best atmospheres of the championships.
Another particularity, the warm-up stadium is open to all the curious, from a promontory just at the foot of the competition stadium. A French family marveled at the acceleration rehearsals of the champions. “Is he a Frenchman? asks the little boy. “No, he’s an Italian. The country is written on the jersey »replies the mother. “Look how he traces”launches the father. “Do you think Kylian Mbappé is going that fast? »asks the child.
This Thursday, to answer him, the winners of the men’s and women’s 200 meters will be much faster than “Kyky”, perhaps even faster than the world records for the distance.