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Billikens’ New Facility Elevates SLU Track Program

Hundreds of track & field fans converge on midtown St. Louis, packing the stands of Saint Louis University’s track complex, cheering on the country’s elite track & field athletes as the majestic St. Louis skyline glimmers on the horizon. That is SLU track coach Jon Bell’s vision for the Billiken track & field program in the near future. With the opening of a new on-campus track, strong ties to the local running community and his dedication and enthusiasm, coach Bell’s vision of St. Louis as a national destination for track & field events is on its way to becoming a reality.

Looking back at the history of SLU’s running programs makes you appreciate the opportunity that lies ahead. The current program is a work in progress and, in the span of a few years, has come a long way. The SLU cross country program has existed in various forms over the years and survived a series of stops and starts. It was last discontinued in 1985 and was re-established in 1992.

Track & field and baseball were the first true sports offered at SLU. SLU LogoAt some point early in the program’s history, the track & field program was dropped and was not brought back again until decades later when it returned for the 2006–07 season. “You couldn’t develop it (SLU’s running programs) fully until track & field was on board,” Bell explains.

In its current form, the SLU track & field program has faced several challenges. Like a lot of new collegiate programs, limited financial resources hindered its development. From its beginning the program lacked its own regulation track to practice and hold meets at.

SLU previously practiced off campus at Cardinal Ritter Preparatory School’s track, located a few blocks away, and has never hosted a home meet. The lack of an on-campus track caused issues in scheduling practices. “We had a great relationship with [Cardinal Ritter], but I still had to work on their hours; it was their facility,” Bell admits.

SLU_track_2The construction of SLU’s new track complex will eliminate the past challenges the program faced by improving the scheduling of practices and increasing the coaching staff’s ability to work with athletes on an individual basis by having unlimited access to its own facility. Hosting NCAA meets is also in the works as SLU hopes to hold its first-ever home meet in the spring of 2012.

The new track should also help in recruiting athletes by having a facility to showcase. “Every recruit I brought over there this summer, they looked at it and their eyes just lit up,” Bell proudly states.

SLU’s latest addition to midtown St. Louis was unveiled this summer. The new track & field complex, located at Rutger Street and Compton Avenue on SLU’s Medical Center Campus, was completed in July. Built by Alberici Construction, the 11-acre complex includes an NCAA regulation soccer field surrounded by an NCAA-certified 400-meter, eight-lane running track and seating for over 600 fans. The track features a Conipur SP surface, manufactured by Conica Sports Surfaces, and is certified by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF). The track’s design features short straightaways and wide, sweeping turns, which should make it a fast track for runners. Competitors and fans will also have spectacular views of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis from the track complex.

Coach Bell is enthusiastic about the future of his program and the St. Louis running community. Being well connected to the local running community, Bell hopes the new facility and his friendships with local event organizers will enable his program to be more active in the St. Louis running scene.

When he first took over as SLU’s cross country and track & field coach in 2007, Bell temporarily lived with Ben Rosario, co-owner of Big River Running Company, one of the leading specialty running stores and race organizers in Missouri. Bell hopes to develop his ties to the community, such as his friendship with Rosario, to bring meets to the new track.

“I’ve had conversations with Big River and Ben about bringing elite track & field to St. Louis,” Bell states. He envisions local races, such as Big River’s popular Festival of Miles, possibly using the track, in addition to collegiate meets and USATF events featuring elite competition from across the country.

Bell’s vision is starting to take shape. A formal opening of the track complex is planned for later this year and plans are being made for the first collegiate meet to be held at the track. The Inaugural Billiken Invitational is tentatively scheduled for April 13–14, 2012.

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