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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Expectations high for 2022 USA Track and Field national championships at The Podium in Spokane

The Podium was built on the promise that it could attract major athletic events to Spokane.

Construction hasn’t even wrapped up, but Spokane’s new indoor sports complex has already begun to make good on that promise.

The Podium will host the USA Track and Field’s 2022 national championship invitational, drawing top-tier athletes into the city for a two-day competition. The USATF Indoor Championships is the country’s qualifying event for the World Athletics Indoor Championships, which will be held in Serbia the following year.

The downtown location was announced Saturday on a national NBC broadcast, and officials gathered at the Podium on Tuesday to offer a tour of the facility and detail plans to host the invitational.

Organizers expect about 450 athletes and 8,000 spectators to descend on Spokane for the Indoor Championships, which they say will be a boon to the local economy just as it begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s just really only the beginning when you consider what the national exposure an event like this will bring to us,” said Spokane Sports CEO Eric Sawyer.

Spokane Sports programs the events at the Podium, which is owned by the Spokane Public Facilities District.

With room for at least 4,000 spectators and myriad amenities for athletes and visitors alike, Sawyer can envision hosting just about every indoor sport imaginable. It’s easily set for cheerleading, wrestling, volleyball – even Esports, table tennis and drone races.

The USA Track and Field event is a big get for Spokane Sports and the Spokane Public Facilities District, which based their case for a $56 million investment in building the new sports facility on its potential to bring in premier sporting events that could offer a boost to Spokane’s economy.

The Podium is expected to open this fall, nestled on land on the Spokane River’s north bank leased to the Public Facilities District by the city of Spokane’s Parks Department. After a slow and deliberate opening later this year, the national championship invitational will be its first true showcase event.

“I cannot tell you how excited I am about this for our sport and for the community,” said Linda Lanker, a longtime track and field coach at Spokane Community College and USATF coach.

The facility’s centerpiece is its 200-meter, six-lane track that is sloped at both curved ends. At an angle of up to 10 degrees, the slope essentially catches runners as they sprint into the turn, allowing them to maintain speed and set better overall times than on a flat track.

The bank also provides a better viewing angle for spectators, Lanker noted.

“It makes track and field more exciting,” said Lanker, who coached some of the country’s top Olympians.

The banked track is powered by a hydraulic system built by a specialized, Georgia-based company. It takes about three minutes to lift to the full 10-degree angle and is the first of its kind in the western United States.

Spokane Sports is aware that others like it could be built in the west, which will present competition in attracting major events. But Sawyer also sees that growth as an opportunity for collaboration.

“We know it’s just a matter of time before the University of Oregon builds a track, but that’s OK,” Sawyer said. “That opens up a lot of possibilities for professional tours in track and field. We’re on the front of a wave and we want to take advantage of it.”

The banked track is just one of several amenities Spokane Sports used to lure in the national championship invitational, which has only been held in the Pacific Northwest one other time in the last 50 years – in 2016 in Portland. That track was also banked, but not on a permanent hydraulic system like the one being built in Spokane.

“This really will showcase the best athletes in the country,” Sawyer said.

It’s not just USA Track and Field events that Spokane Sports hopes to draw in, but a whole host of collegiate and high school tournaments, as well.

The athletes could very possibly set world records in Spokane.

The Lilac City’s elevation makes it perfect for athletes, a middle ground between the heavy air pressure of venues closer to sea level and oxygen-deprived air of cities higher up, according to Sawyer.

The 2021 Indoor Championships was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Next year’s invitational is slated for February, and officials are optimistic that it will go on as planned.

Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District, said the pandemic has made the potential impact of the indoor sports complex – $33 million in visitor spending and $1.7 million in additional tax revenues each year – as timely as ever.

“Spokane is going to lead our state out of this COVID and economic crisis because of this building,” Curran said. “Today we can say that the burning in our hearts for all these years is about to fire up this community.”

The 2022 Indoor Championships is expected to generate more than $2 million in visitor spending alone.

The 135,000-square-foot complex was funded by several sources, principally bonds sold by Spokane County, reserves held by the Spokane Public Facilities District and money from the city of Spokane. It is a separate project from the proposed downtown sports stadium rejected by voters in 2018.

The building features a nearly panoramic vista of downtown Spokane and close proximity to the city’s amenities, including several hotels and restaurants. It’s also next door to the Spokane Arena, another Spokane Public Facilities District asset, which will make operations streamlined and more efficient.

“The best-selling feature we have in this building is its location,” Sawyer said.