Catching Up with PTF Director Craig Rice / by Scott Bush

Craig Rice started the Portland Track Festival in 2008, growing a small, local event into one of the premier track events in the United States. Here’s what’s on tap for this year.

PT Weekly (PTW): It's a year of transition for many athletes, as well as meets. What are you most excited about as PTF 2014 draws near? 

Craig Rice (CR): Who needs a world championship when you have the level of excitement that American track and field has had so far this year?!

The change that a non-champs year brings can be tough on the sport but it also brings renewal in a way that is not possible if each year was organized in the same way. Among the potential positive outcomes for this season are a strengthening of the TFAA  and the growth of the number of domestic track meets as the American Track League begins this May.  

This could be a landmark year where the athletes apply their freedom to changing the sport. In the meantime we’ll still be bringing you the same great PTF meet in June. Some things should remain unchanged.

PTW: Last year was the best year in Portland Track Festival history. What can be done this year to make it even better?

CR: We talk about creating story lines as we plan the meet. Our best events are those that have a compelling angle like the boys Sub-4 mile attempt in 2009 or Mary Cain’s 5000 HSR last year. Many track fans don’t need a special reason to go see a meet but to broaden fan interest in the sport it helps to bring concise story lines that appeal to the more casual fan or general public. Providing opportunities for the athletes will always be our focus but we’ll continue to package interesting races in a way that helps bring out the fan base.

PTW: The Portland track and field community is so strong. What makes Portland such a special place to put on a professional-level track meet?

CR: Portland has a deep connection to track and distance running that goes way back. We’re plugging into a culture that includes a long lineup of charismatic personalities like Grelle, Bowerman, Prefontaine, Salazar, Hasay, Symmonds and Groenendaal. The state enjoys the numerous championships won by the University of Oregon and University of Portland, and we have access to big-time events like the Olympic Trials, Prefontaine Classic and the NCAA championships that keep fans in touch with the sport at a high level.  

And beyond our home grown talent we have Team Schumacher, Nike Oregon Project, OTC Elite and the new Oiselle group in Bend that bring many of the nation’s best to train in Oregon. Just across the river is the state of Washington with a tradition just as deep which has fed a great rivalry with Oregon over the years. This concentration of talent, events and tradition produces a great track culture that we pair with a picturesque venue at Lewis and Clark College and with Oregon’s cool June weather and when you put that all together you have optimum conditions for fast.

PTW: There have been a lot of special races over the past few years at PTF. Do one or two really stand out as your favorites?

CR: The hush that took over Lewis and Clark College in the moments before the men’s 800 last year was the a unique moment. We’ve had many elite athletes in various races over the years but each of the athletes in this race had star power. The lineup included Wheating, Centrowitz, Mulder, Jock, Martin, Wieczorek and Joe Abbot. The race was as exciting as expected but it was especially interesting for the meet directors since our pacer came down with food poisoning the morning of the race. We scrambled and ended up finding a Portland State quarter miler in Pendleton who made the 3-hour drive just in time to start the race. We were sweating it a bit that day.

Another special race was Kim Conley pacing 16 women to the Olympic Trials 10K qualifying standard in 2012. Kim combined the 10k  and the open 1500 as a tune up for her memorable 5000 in Eugene but at the PTF she led the train for 4 miles before the field took over and collaborated to get 16 across within the time OT standard. I especially remember what a happy homecoming it was for Sarah Porter, of Zap Fitness, who was able to get her qualifier in front of her family who lives nearby in Vancouver, WA.

PTW: Besides the Portland Track Festival, what's your favorite part about the outdoor track season?

CR: I love meets like Stanford Invite, Payton Jordan and OXY which seem to have a similar vibe to the PTF. You can be leaning up on the rail watching athletes battle out the final lap of the 5000 one moment and as the next heat get’s lined up the competitors from the previous heat are standing next to you. The PTF is the same way. Once the big names are done racing they’re sitting in the stands with the fans. I like the big meets as well but the small meets have a hands-on charm that make them unique.

PTW: Okay, last question and definitely the most difficult. What would you rather see happen first at the Portland Track Festival? A) Sub-4 high school mile  B) American record or  C) World #1 time?

CR: You are right, that is tough.  I’ll modify it a bit and go with  B. American Record Attempt

We have unfinished business with the sub-4 high school mile after Mac Fleet got so close in 2009 and a World leader would mean that we have elite fields but I think an American Record attempt best fits our goal of putting together interesting story lines that pique the interest of our local fan base. Even an unsuccessful record attempt is fun to watch.