HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — Roger Kingdom was in heaven this weekend from the moment he walked into the GaREAT track and field complex.
Kingdom, a two-time 110-meter hurdle Olympic champion and presently head track coach at California University of Pennsylvania, has competed in indoor and outdoor track facilities all over the world and compares GaREAT favorably with any indoor facility he has ever seen.
“It is only a matter of time before you have a major international competition here,” Kingdom said of the 300-meter track with seating for 4,000 people.
Kingdom said he had an amazing feeling of excitement when he walked in the door Friday night for the first time.
“I haven’t had that feeling since I was competing,” he said.
Kingdom, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, won the 55-meter World Indoor hurdle championship in 1989 in Budapest, Hungary.
“I’m excited about this. It shows that track and field in the United States is still alive,” he said.
“Ron’s (Clutter) obviously had a vision to boost track and field,” said David Smalley, operations director for the GaREAT complex.
The GaREAT staff is gearing up for a month of high intensity track and field meets. “We were ahead of the start times so we had to slow things down,” said Smalley.
He said small clocks surrounding the track have been added to help runners keep proper pace.
“It adds up to a little extra perk for the athletes,” he said.
“This is by far the best facility we have ever been at,” said John Pape, head track coach at Slippery Rock University for more than 20 years. He said the facility size helps move the meet along because there are two pole vault pits, two long jump pits and a variety of throwing areas.
“We’ll definitely come back next year,” Pape said.
“It’s really impressive. It’s a really nice facility. My girls were impressed. They are a little bit in awe at the size of it,” Jim Herlinger, track coach at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, said.
Athletes also were impressed with the facility.
“It’s huge. It’s really nice, too. The track surface is really fast,” Chris Harper, of Robert Morris in Pittsburgh, said.
Kevin Wilbank, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, held out judgment until he could see the track for himself. He said he looked at a video on the GaREAT website and didn’t believe the claims that were being made.
“It’s awesome,” Wilbank said. He said the style of the complex was the most impressive aspect of the facility to him.
The combination of a fast 300-meter track, like those at Kent State University and the University of Akron, coupled with a large seating section and elevated viewing areas make it special.
Area residents looking to see high-level track and field will be able to see heated competition next weekend when some of the best track and field schools in the nation gather at the GaREAT track.
Ohio State, Wisconsin and many other Division I track powers will converge on Harpersfield Township to try and hit qualifying marks for the upcoming Division I NCAA Track and Field Indoor Track Meet.