The name signifies a fresh start for a team of Portland-based, Nike-sponsored elite runners coached by Pete Julian.
The group includes — among others — former University of Oregon stars Jessica Hull, Raevyn Rogers and Charlie Hunter, and 2019 world champion Donavan Brazier.
The Union Athletics Club reinvented itself out of the debris left from the implosion of the Nike Oregon Project in 2019 following the sanction of NOP coach Alberto Salazar. Salazar was found to have violated doping rules.
Salazar and Julian, then his assistant, had operated semi-autonomously within the Oregon Project, each responsible for a separate group of athletes.
Julian’s athletes largely stuck with him after Nike scrapped the NOP. It took two years, which included the COVID pandemic, for the group to come up with a new identity.
“It’s completely unique,” Julian says.
More than half of the Union Athletics Club’s 11 active athletes plan to compete this week in Eugene. There are some notable exceptions.
Brazier, U.S. record-holder in the men’s 800 meters, won’t run at the Pre Classic, which doesn’t feature a men’s 800. Craig Engels, 2019 U.S. champion in the 1,500, won’t because of a nagging lower leg problem.
Hull, Rogers and Hunter will compete. Rogers, one of five UO athletes immortalized on the 10-story tower at Hayward Field, will be part of the field in the women’s 800.
The women’s 800 had been shaping up as a sensational event. Reigning Olympic gold medalist Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson, the Olympic silver medalist who clocked a swift time of 1 minute, 58.63 seconds last week in Birmingham, England, were expected on the start line.
Rogers took the Olympic bronze in 2021. But that race was in Tokyo. This one is in Eugene, where a mysterious force known by UO athletes as “Hayward Magic” and a big, partisan crowd often bear on the outcome.
Rogers already has thrown down with a meet-record time of 1:58.77 at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays in April.
Mu withdrew this week, dampening some of the enthusiasm. But with 2022 world indoor champ Ajee’ Wilson expected to compete, the 800 still should be some race.
The entire meet is made up of events filled with Olympic medalists. The Pre Classic arguably is the best non-championship track meet in the world.
The two-day affair starts with five distance races beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Friday program, which can be seen on the subscription streaming service USATF.TV, includes the USA Track & Field men’s and women’s 10,000-meter championships.
U.S. record-holder Grant Fisher, Woody Kincaid and Sean McGorty of the Portland-based Bowerman Track Club are in the men’s field. Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer of the BTC are expected in the women’s race.
There are 19 events on Saturday, with the action starting at 12:20 p.m. Among the featured events are the iconic Bowerman Mile and the men’s shot put.
Jakob Ingebrigsten, who set the Olympic record while winning in Tokyo, and silver medalist Timothy Cheruiyot are entered in the Bowerman Mile. So are recent UO stars Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare. World record-holder Ryan Crouser, pride of Barlow High School, will throw the shot.
LINK: Pre Classic start lists
Much of the meet on Saturday will be live on NBC, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The events will be fast and furious, and fans at the refashioned Hayward Field might have trouble catching their breath.
The Union Athletics Club will be in the thick of it, new identity and all. The team members, Julian and assistants Sonia O’Sullivan and Dave McHenry consulted with Nike and branding experts while trying to decide what to call themselves.
“It became a way more difficult process than I thought it would be,” Julian says.
It took until last December, in part because everyone involved wanted a name symbolizing a clean break with the past.
The Union Athletics Club isn’t a moniker as catchy as, say, Pete’s Dragons. But it does tie together members of the group as committed to a common purpose. It also keeps the coaches in the background. Julian prefers it that way.
“I told the team through this whole process that this is their brand, this is their team,” Julian says. “I’ve told them every step of the way, ‘The packaging can never be better than the product.’
“We have to win, and we have to do it with style, integrity and class.”
Julian has been particularly happy this year with Hull, Rogers and Sinclaire Johnson, the 2019 NCAA champ in the 1,500 from Oklahoma State.
Johnson moved to the UAC from the Bowerman Track Club. Last week she won the 800 at the USATF Distance Classic at Mt. SAC in 2:01.06. She is entered in Saturday’s 1,500.
Hull has started the season well, too. She placed third in the 3,000 behind Olympic medalists Francine Niyonsaba and Faith Kipyegon at the Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar.
Then Hull went toe to toe last week with Olympic medalist Laura Muir in the 1,500 at Birmingham before finishing second in 4:03.42.
“They’re an incredible 1-2-3 punch,” Julian says of Hull, Rogers and Johnson. “Right now, they’re the shining lights of the Union Athletics Club.”
— Ken Goe for The Oregonian/OregonLive