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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

 

Instead of celebrating their new, 2,400-seat track and field stadium Monday with a ceremonial first lap, the Gophers could have staged a full marathon.

That would have symbolized the long, grueling path the University of Minnesota took to building the glistening $13 million facility.

After demolishing their old track to build the Athletes Village, after a gender-equity complaint and subsequent investigation, and after three years spent shuttling to practices at Hamline and St. Thomas, the Gophers finally have a new on-campus home.

"My first impression was overwhelmed, emotional and humble," junior All-American Rachel Schow said. "This facility is first class."

The university renovated the former Bierman track for the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival, then gradually let the facility fall into disrepair. The facility was deemed unfit to host college events following the 2004 outdoor track season.

The gender-equity complaint, filed in January 2015 by anonymous Gophers track supporters, noted that the women's track and cross-country rosters - comprising 45 percent of all female athletes at the school - help keep the U in compliance with Title IX, the law banning sexual discrimination at institutions that receive federal funding

Yet the original Athletes Village blueprints, designed under former athletic director Norwood Teague, had no plans for a new track.

"I was not a happy guy, and I told people that," said Gary Wilson, former longtime coach of the Gophers women's track and cross-country teams.

The university delayed construction plans for the Village before securing a spot for the new track. That spot is tucked east of the Gophers baseball and softball stadiums, just north of 5th Street.

"The best part about it is it's here on this campus," Wilson said. "They could have easily - around the country, you could end up cutting a track program or saying, 'We're just not going to mess with it.' "

The new track has nine lanes and features fully enclosed, heated warm-up and cool down areas beneath the grandstand.

"I think it puts us up in the top one or two in the conference in terms of facilities," said Matt Bingle, who oversees the men's and women's teams as newly appointed director of Gophers track and field/cross-country.

Even without a home facility, Bingle led the Gophers women to Big Ten indoor and outdoor track and field titles last season. The Gophers men also swept the indoor and outdoor track titles as recently as 2010, under Steve Plasencia.

Last season, the Gophers won two NCAA individual titles - with Obsa Ali in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Kaitlin Long in the weight throw.

"I think the thing that stands out to me is we haven't hosted an event in [14] years," said Gophers AD Mark Coyle. "And the fact we have a program that is winning championships regularly, it's awesome just to give that advantage to our student-athletes."

The track's $13 million cost got folded into the overall $190 million athletic facilities renovation project, which includes the Village. So far, the Gophers have fundraised $123 million of that total.

They will host their first track meet in the new stadium - the Minnesota Spring Open - on April 12-13. Coyle said the facility was built with an eye toward hosting "regional and national" meets.

Several men's and women's athletes joined Goldy Gopher for Monday's ceremonial first lap at the new track's grand opening.

First, the starter fired a pistol, the same one used for the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival.

"As my mother used to say, good things happen to those who wait," Plasencia said. "And boy, have we waited."

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September 18, 2018
 
 
 

 

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