April 26, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
The Huskies' have had 27 Olympians and 36 NCAA champions in their storied track-and-field history.
They have had dual meets with Washington State since William McKinley was president, since the first Nobel Prize was awarded and Walt Disney - the person, not the empire - was born. That was 1901.
But the Dawgs have never had what they are getting this weekend.
A new home, all their own.
The 97th dual meet between UW and WSU on Saturday is the first competition on the sparkling new - and absolutely purple - Husky Track. The 10 a.m. hammer throw on the far northeast corner of the purple oval will begin the historic day.
On an appropriately sunny and mild Friday evening, UW director of athletics Scott Woodward and track coach Greg Metcalf simultaneously cut with matching gold scissors a ceremonial, purple ribbon tied to a hurdle in front of Husky Track's main entrance. Approximately 200 proud and impressed former Husky track-and-field athletes and guests then mingled on the purple track then headed to a celebratory dinner at Conibear Shellhouse.
"Right now, it's finally in. But this track has been a good 20 years in the making," Metcalf said, Mount Rainier looming over both his shoulder and the black, chain-link fence that separates the new track from Husky Soccer Stadium to the immediate south.
Husky Track is located directly east of the E-1 parking lot, about a half mile north of football's Husky Stadium. That had been track's home from 1920 until now.
"It's almost like Christmas morning each time I drive around the corner and see this place," said Metcalf, who has been leading Washington's track and cross-country programs since 2002.
"You know, I went to my first real track practice at the University of Washington the other day. Throwers, jumpers, sprinters and hurdlers all training in the same place!
"It's so great for our athletes and our future. This is a giant step in a positive direction for our track-and-field program."
Have we mentioned the track is purple?
"Wow! It really is purple!" more than one guest exclaimed as they approached the three, red-brick pillars serving as the main entrance to Husky Track in the southwest corner of the site.
Purple all the way around. And purple on the eight different pole-vault runways, four each running north-south and east-west for use depending on the wind conditions during competitions. The unique track is outlined with white lane markings and white lane numbers. Starting-block arrows are painted ... well, gold, of course.
Raul Sheen, UW's assistant coach for sprints, hurdles and relays, scanned the track from under his dark sunglasses and simply said: "Pretty cool."
There's even purple on the grass infield, inside the block W logo just off the track at the top of the main, sprinting straightaway on the south side.
Metcalf believes Husky Track is the only track-specific facility in major college athletics with a purple running surface. Weber State in Ogden, Utah, has a purple track to match its school colors, but that is around its football field - like Washington's used to be until Husky Stadium's renovation took out the track to move the football seating far closer to the field.
A couple years ago the coach was in the team's hotel in Palo Alto, Calif., for a road meet at Stanford. He was looking over design ideas for Husky Track with his assistant coaches, mulling a traditional, brownish-red surface, maybe even one more red - or purple.
A coach for rival Oregon came by.
"Gosh, you're not going to build a purple track, are you?" the Ducks coach asked Metcalf, looking over his shoulder at his renderings.
"We weren't - until now," the Huskies' leader replied.
"You know, last week I was in a plane that was about to land at Sea-Tac, making the turn over campus, and I looked down and saw this great, purple track. I was so excited I think the guy in the seat next to me thought I was going to jump out.
"It's just great."
It's also something of an engineering and landscaping feat. Turner Construction, the same firm that is completing the $250 million renovation of Husky Stadium that the football program will unveil Aug. 31, completed Husky Track by covering a landfill adjacent to swampy marshes that serve as the start of Union Bay to the east.
Underground pilings reinforce the running oval for all 400 meters, all the way around. The need for the pilings added a few million dollars to the project.
"This lovely track was a mud bog, a landfill. Not the best place to build on," Metcalf told the crowd that included among many others Metcalf's own coach, Ken Shannon, plus LaNorris Marshall, a Huskies All-American the early 80s who held the UW record in the 200 for nearly 20 years and still is part of the record-holding 4x100-meter relay squad from 1983. Marshall's son, Travis, is now a freshman ready for his first race on the track on Saturday.
"Actually, I recommended to Scott that we put it around the soccer field," Metcalf said, turning to his left to his AD. "To Scott's credit he said, `No, we are going to build you your own place.'
"We have 120 young men and women in our track-and-field program. This is about them, about allowing our kids to have a great facility. You can't win in college athletics without great facilities."
Husky Stadium's need for new sight lines for football, new revenue streams member athletic departments are enjoying from the Pac-12's new television contacts with ESPN and FOX, plus low interest rates and favorable markets for construction bonds made this a prime time to act on what UW track enthusiasts have been dreaming of for a quarter century. Or more.
"With the great history our track program has, this is a very important part of our athletic department and our overall program," Woodward said. "And this has been built in a way that makes us proud.
"This is state of the art."
And it's not even complete. Not yet.
UW is wheeling in three sections of three-row bleachers to set up on the south side of the facility for Saturday's dual meet with WSU. The goal is that the new place will have bleachers seating a couple thousands on that south side, the kind of stands Husky Soccer Stadium has.
Metcalf ultimately wants a capacity of 4,500. That will allow him to meet the goal that many of Husky track alumni-turned-high-school coaches in the state have: for UW to host the Washington state high school track and field championships.
Washington has received word from the conference that it will host the 2017 Pac-12 outdoor track and field championships at Husky Track. UW will bring in more bleachers for the end areas and the north side to increase capacity from the targeted 4,500 for the Pac-12s that spring.
Saturday will be the first Huskies' home track meet at a facility other than Husky Stadium since before 1920, when UW ran for the first time around the dirt track inside brand-new Washington Field. That was four decades before the football facility became known as "Husky Stadium." The football stadium hosted the 1951 NCAA track championships plus the 1990 Goodwill Games, a competition of world-class athletes from United States, the Soviet Unions and their allies in the wake of each superpower's boycott of the other's Olympic Games in 1980 and '84.
That was the era in which Marshall arrived to sprint at UW from his native Arizona. As he walked the spongy, purple track at its southwest corner Friday evening - as kids of fellow Husky track alums raced around the surface - he said he'd never thought the Huskies would ever have their own track facility.
"I didn't, because this has always been such a football school," said Marshall, who lives in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland and leads the shipping department for a company that builds defibrillators.
"This is something. The track is definitely wide enough.
"It's definitely world class."