April 28, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Geoff Newing has been attending or running track meets at Husky Stadium for 40 years, since the days the first all-weather track was put around UW's football field.
He's seen 33 stadium records set at the 1990 Goodwill Games by athletes from the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba with tens of thousands filling the lower bowl and even streaming into the upper decks as if it was a Washington football game.
He remembers running a sprint for the Huskies in hail and snow in the early 1970s - and then running straight through the finish line into the tunnel to get back out of the cold.
Currently the head official for Huskies' home meets, Newing knows that Husky Stadium has one more dual track meet left in it: Friday night's Washington State-Washington meeting, a rivalry that even predates its current Seattle home. He knows that names such as Leroy Burrell, Michael Johnson, Robert Hernandez, Carl Lewis, Dave Johnson and Jackie Joyner will forever be in a stadium record book that is closing permanently.
And that makes the UW letterman in 1972 and '73, whose father officiated meets at Husky Stadium long before that, sad.
"It's kind of bittersweet," Newing said Thursday by telephone, a day before he officiates the stadium's final track event prior to renovation beginning in November. "I know U-Dub is going to get a beautiful new stadium, and it's going to be state-of-the-art and be a better place. But I've seen a lot of great performances in there. It's hard to believe that stadium won't ever have a track around it again."
UW is in the preliminary planning stages for a new track facility a few hundred yards north of Husky Stadium, in the vicinity of Washington's soccer field. So Friday's dual meet with the Cougars is the final one in a stadium that first hosted the rivals in track on May 13, 1922, on a four-lane cinder oval. That was two years after Husky Stadium opened with an all-dirt football field and only a lower deck of stands ringing it.
Soaring Scott Roth, who has treated the pole vault like a pogo stick this outdoor season while breaking Brad Walker's school record, leads the Husky men against the Cougars and their own NCAA hurdles champion, Jeshua Anderson. At the same hour beginning with a loaded javelin throw at 3 p.m. Friday, with three of the top four women in the NCAA, Washington's women host 21st-ranked WSU. The UW-WSU dual is one of the longest-running in the nation, and one of the few remaining two-team duals left in Division-I track. The Huskies and Cougars first met in 1900, with Washington taking a 74-41 win. This year's meeting will, as usual, feature multiple All-Americans battling for Evergreen State bragging rights before they compete next month for the Pac-10 championships in Tucson, Ariz., and then the national championships in Des Moines, Iowa. The hottest one going right now is Roth. The Huskies' six-time All-American's vault of 18-9¼ last weekend at the Mt. SAC relays in California broke Walker's previous record by almost three inches. It is the best vault - indoor or outdoor -- by an American this year, and is the second-best pole vault in the world outdoors in 2011. Roth's event against WSU is scheduled to begin Friday at 5:30 p.m. After the UW-WSU dual, Husky Stadium will host one final track event, May 7's Ken Shannon Invitational named for Washington's Hall-of-Fame coach from 1968-97. Then one of the nation's last tracks around a full football field at a major U.S. university will close.
"It's an awesome venue," Newing said of the stadium with an east end that opens to the views -- and often chilling winds - of Lake Washington's Union Bay. "You think about all the great track stadiums around the country, and they can't put as many people in the stands as Husky Stadium can for track meets."
Newing said fans spilled into the upper decks -- even though they couldn't see the side of the track immediately below them -- when the world's stars ran wild on the new, lightning-fast surface in the 1990 Goodwill Games.
"Believe it or not, there were a few windless and warm days in there," he said with a laugh.
Besides the Northwest weather to which all UW athletes have grown accustomed since about the beginning of meteorology, track and field in Husky Stadium has other quirks.
When Washington's softball stadium was constructed on the east side of the venue a few decades ago, it took away some of the perimeter space for Husky Stadium's field events. So some for UW's outdoor home meets are now held off campus. Again Friday afternoon, three hours before the rest of the competition gets going at Husky Stadium, UW and WSU teammates will trek to West Seattle Stadium to cheer on the hammer throw that begins at noon.
The Pac-10 championships haven't been held at UW since 1997. And there recently have been only two outdoor home events each season for the Huskies; in Newing's day the conference's schools rotated through Husky Stadium for dual meets in home-and-home series every other season.
The reason for the track's recent inactivity is that it hasn't been replaced since 1989. That year, in preparation for the Goodwill Games, the Seattle Organizing Committee gave Husky Stadium a new, eight-lane synthetic surface track worth $1.5 million. A year later, 17 of the stadium's 21 men's track-and-field records and 16 of its 21 women's track-and-field marks were set in those Goodwill Games.
In subsequent decades, officials hesitated to replace the track because there was talk of renovating the entire stadium. UW didn't want to install a new track only to have it torn up in reconstruction soon after. Now, finally, that renovation is here.
Track has been a part of Husky Stadium since engineers drew plans for a four-lane cinder track with 220-yard straightaways before the venue opened in 1920.
A year later, Husky Stadium hosted the first Pacific Coast Relays track meet, later renamed the Washington Relay Carnival. In 1928, the meet at Husky Stadium included record-breaking performances by UW's Steve Anderson in the 120-yard high hurdles and Husky Herman Brix in the shot put. Both subsequently set several world records and won silver medals at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
In 1951 and '71, the NCAA held its track and field championships at Husky Stadium. In 1972 the AAU did the same for its championships.
That was the same year Newing first ran for the Huskies. He's been at the track at Husky Stadium ever since, going straight into officiating upon graduation from UW in 1974. He says the best individual performance he's ever seen in the stadium was by a Cougar: Washington State's Henry Rono breaking the world record in the steeplechase in 1978.
"My dad was timing first place on that," Newing said of Rono's 8:05.4, which still stands as the Husky Stadium record in the event. "He got to sign the world record for him."