Published March 22, 2013
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Eight years ago when Kelly Sullivan became track coach at Oregon State, he had two glaring obstacles: No athletes and no track.
So on Saturday, he'll be realizing a dream when the Beavers host Portland and Willamette in a meet at the new Whyte Track & Field Center.
Oregon State held its last track meet on campus in 1988 and dropped its program at the end of that season for financial reasons. The sport's facilities were later bulldozed. But since 2004, Sullivan has worked to revive a program that produced Dick Fosbury and some 17 other Olympians.
"It's a huge piece of the puzzle," Sullivan said. "Can you imagine trying to have a football team without a football stadium, or a baseball team without a baseball field?
"Saturday is going to be a reward for all of us."
The last collegiate event on the Oregon State campus was the Beaver Twilight in May 1988. The last meet was the Oregon Senior TAC Championships in June 1988. The event was both a tuneup and a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic trials that year.
One of those who took part was Olympian Lance Deal, now an assistant coach at neighboring Oregon, who won the hammer with a throw of 248' 2". Deal competed in four Olympics, winning the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
It was a sad ending to a program that had its first Olympian in Forrest Smithson, who set a then-world record in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1908 London Games. Probably the most famous Oregon State track alum was Fosbury, inventor of the back-first Fosbury Flop, who won gold in the high jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Enter Sullivan, who had stints as an assistant at Auburn and coached two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds at Willamette. His first season, he had one scholarship. His team included about two dozen athletes, 19 of whom were already current students.
Until September, when the Whyte Center opened, the team worked out at Corvallis High School, trying to juggle student class schedules with various high school events.
"You'd have to work out around their practice times. We'd have to have really early morning workouts, or there'd be balls kicked into our lanes while we were running, which is difficult. There was a lot of stuff going on," said senior Lauren Graebner, a cross country and distance runner. "This year we have throwers, we have jumpers, it's great. We have men competing with us. We've really developed into a true track and field program."
Sullivan is not done yet. He has his track, but it's not nearly completed. Funds must still be raised to put in spectator seats, a timing system and other necessities, like hurdles and a pole vault pit.
Sullivan would also like to add men to the program. He's already been able borrow some football players, like brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who ran in several events. Markus Wheaton, considered among the top receivers in the upcoming NFL draft, also ran track for the Beavers.
But most of all, Sullivan would like to re-legitimatize Oregon State track and field.
"I've had to leave my ego in the glove box for a lot longer than I've wanted, but I'm excited about us pushing the envelope and being more of a factor," he said.
First comes Saturday's meet, which will have the NCAA-required 10 events necessary for it to count on the season. It will be scored as a dual meet between Oregon State and Portland for the women, and between Portland and Willamette for the men.
Willamette will host the hammer event at their facility on Friday and will bring its timing system to Corvallis on Saturday. Volunteers from the Oregon track Club will serve as officials.
Oregon State's only other track event scheduled for the Whyte Center this season is the inaugural OSU High Performance meet for regional college athletes as well as open and club qualifiers, scheduled for April 26.
"Would I have loved to walk in here on Day One and have a facility, a full staff, and be able to recruit for all the events and be able to compete head-to-head with everybody in our conference? Well, yeah," Sullivan said. "That's why I've been working this hard. I want that opportunity."