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Myrtle Beach to host national track events in 2011

Myrtle Beach will host two national track and field youth championships in 2011, which officials say will draw thousands of tourists and millions of dollars for the city of Myrtle Beach, adding to the area's growing roster of sports tourism events.

USA Track & Field chose the city's Doug Shaw Stadium as the site of the USA Youth Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which will take place June 26 through July 3, 2011, and the Whispering Pines Golf Course as the location of the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships on Dec. 12, 2011.

This is the first time the organization, which is the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking, has awarded a city two youth championships in the same year, officials said.

Myrtle Beach beat out Greensboro, N.C., for the track and field event and Richmond, Va., and Lexington, Ky., for the cross country event.

"As with any winning bid, Myrtle Beach won due to a combination of good facilities, a strong local organizing committee and favorable weather, among other factors," said Jill Geer, chief public affairs officer for USA Track & Field.

Each event is expected to draw 5,000 to 10,000 youth competitors between the ages of 7 and 18 and their families, said John Pederson, Myrtle Beach assistant city manager.

"I think it's going to be a huge economic impact," he said. "That's exactly the type of event that [Myrtle Beach City] council had in mind when they renovated Doug Shaw Stadium.

"This is just making a return on that investment."

The stadium had about $3.2 million in renovations that were completed in September of 2008.

"They're both very, very, very large events that will bring a lot of people and families into the area," said Roy Edmondson, sports sales manager for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

"To have 3,000 kids and their families here in December I think will certainly have a significant impact on the community."

A bonus is that during the track and field championships, Myrtle Beach will also host "the best of the best" in youth track and field by holding the track and field trials for the youth representing the United States in the International Association of Athletics Federations Youth Games, he said.

A group of local representatives went to the annual meeting for USATF in Indianapolis this past weekend to give presentations on Myrtle Beach's facilities, accommodations and amenities and compete with the other cities.

Vince Peoples, the boys head track and field coach at Myrtle Beach High School and one of the school's cross country coaches, traveled as a member of the local organizing committee and said he was thrilled Myrtle Beach will host the two events.

"I'm so excited about it because as a track coach, it's a dream," said Peeples, who also coaches for the Myrtle Beach Track & Field Club.

These events will help to diversify Myrtle Beach's summer sports tourism reputation, which draws much of its notoriety from the youth baseball tournaments held at The Ripken Experience, named after baseball hall-of-famer Cal Ripken, he said.

"In the summer, Myrtle Beach will also be known as a track destination," Peeples said. "Runners and coaches look for everything we have. They look for facilities - we have that. They look for backing by the city - we have that. They look for things that the kids can do - we have the beach here. ... It's almost like a perfect marriage of things coming together."

Another member of the committee, Zola Budd, said the cross country event in December 2011 is sure to attract participants and observers.

"With all the good weather we have here, compared to the rest of the United States, the weather is especially good for cross country running," said Budd, a former cross country Olympian and world champion who now is a volunteer assistant track coach for Coastal Carolina University.

Myrtle Beach officials discussed the issue of the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds, and it was not a problem for USATF, Geer said.

"We, of course, are aware of the political issues that have existed for years regarding the South Carolina flag, but USATF does site selection based on the strength of each bid, rather than an external political situations," she said.

The controversy has drawn much attention since the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew a baseball tournament in the summer after disapproval from the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In September, chamber officials announced that USA Judo - the national governing body for judo that is responsible for the selection of the USA Olympic Teams - chose Myrtle Beach for its 2010 Senior National Championships.

The city will also host the four-day AAU East Coast Summer Sports Games during the 2010 Memorial Day weekend.