Los Angeles has been awarded the 2016 men's and women's U.S. Olympic marathon trials, a prestigious event that could boost the city's efforts to bring the Summer Games back here in 2024.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials—Marathon will be held on Feb. 13, 2016, and will determine Team USA's marathon entrants at the Rio Games. The races will take place on a multi-loop course that will be designed to simulate the Rio course as closely as possible and will remain completely within Los Angeles, largely in the downtown area. The men and women will have separate starts, and both races will be televised on NBC.
The marathon trials will be the first part of a weekend-long celebration of the sport. The annual L.A. Marathon, whose executives supported the Olympic trials bid, moved up their 2016 race from its usual March date to take place a day after the Olympic trials. The L.A. Marathon will retain its "Stadium to the Sea" course, which starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.
Los Angeles, site of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics, has never played host to the Olympic marathon trials.
"This is great for L.A., great for our economy. It's great for our sports past and it's great for our sports future. L.A. is arguably the sporting capital of the world," Mayor Eric Garcetti told The Times in a phone interview.
"I think this will be great for track and field in general in Los Angeles, for our international profile, and for the L.A. Marathon here, locally."
Garcetti and officials of the L.A. Marathon are scheduled to participate in a news conference Wednesday at the Coliseum for a formal announcement of the victorious bid. Los Angeles prevailed in the final round over Houston — site of the 2012 men's and women's marathon trials — and Cincinnati.
Max Siegel, chief executive officer of USA Track and Field, said a key factor in choosing Los Angeles was the organization's desire to rotate the event among different cities in an effort to broaden the sport's fan base. He said he was impressed by the bid from Los Angeles, "a brand-new partner in a city that has a rich tradition of being involved in, and passion for, the Olympic movement."
He cited the bid's public-private collaboration as a strongly persuasive factor in its favor, along with support from Garcetti's office, the L.A. Sports Council, and Anita DeFrantz, a member of the International Olympic Committee and head of the LA84 Foundation. AEG, which owns Staples Center, L.A. Live, the Kings and the Galaxy, also is among the bid's backers.
"We want to combine the best experience for our athletes and put it on a really big platform to expose our athletes and our sports to a very broad audience," Siegel said in a phone interview. "And then, quite frankly, the fan experience and the sponsor experience along with that was really critical.
"The enthusiasm and excitement and commitment from various stakeholders really resonated with us and it was very obvious. To me that was an added plus."
He also said the trials date was chosen to give entrants enough recovery time to have the option to compete in other events at the U.S. Olympic track trials, to be held July 1-10 in Eugene, Ore.
Many fan-friendly events will be staged in conjunction with the trials and the L.A. Marathon to promote the sport. Los Angeles used to be a haven for major professional track and field meets but dwindling attendance, a lack of sponsorship and competition from other sports drove those meets to extinction.
"One of the things that we are really committed to doing and interested in doing is investing in growing a partnership beyond a one-off to really support some of our premier events along the way," Siegel said.
"We wanted to put together an Olympic trials experience that would include events that engage the community, so we got a commitment from the group in L.A. to work with us to develop and host those type of events that will just make this a fantastic experience."
Tracey Russell, CEO of L.A. Marathon LLC, said having two events here on the same weekend will invigorate the sport on many levels.
"I think this is going to be the biggest running weekend in 30 years, since the birth of the women's marathon at the '84 Olympics," said Russell, who was hired by the L.A. Marathon organization last August and worked on the trials bid as one of her first tasks.
"I think it's a super-exciting time for Los Angeles, and certainly the marathon-running community, to be able to play host to an event that happens only every four years and is sort of the crowning event for American athletes to be able to participate and compete in the Olympic trials. We're super excited that Los Angeles is going to be able to create that stage for these athletes to shine."
She also said the L.A. Marathon will gain from having the Olympic trials on the same weekend.
"I think it's fantastic. It really aligns with our long-term vision of elevating our annual marathon to the top tier of international marathons," she said. "We like to say we're really aspiring to be a must-run, global marathon, so by hosting the trials this is only going to help us as far as visibility as well as credibility as we move forward in the marathon industry as one of those must-run, global events."
A possible downside to the convergence of the two events is the traffic that's likely to result from street and freeway closures and an influx of visitors.
"I hope there will be traffic," Garcetti said. "It's a reflection of a lot of Angelenos who want to see this. We have the best sports fans in the world here. It will be evidence that Los Angeles is not a declining city. I'd rather have a problem to solve like traffic than have nobody here at all."