Maybe it's the 103-year history, or the fact that it emerged as an athletic powerhouse after a stint as a homeless shelter, or maybe because it's an epicenter of the largest track events in the world: Something about The Armory on Fort Washington Avenue gives it golden-ticket status when it comes to the Olympics.
Throughout its rich history, The Armory indoor track has played host to the world's finest athletes, hundreds of them going on to represent their countries in Olympic Games. This year alone, 156 athletes from 40 nations who have competed at The Armory will face off against each other at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Built in 1909 as an armory for the 22nd Regiment of the Army Corps of Engineers, The Armory hosted its first track meet in 1914 and served as a launching pad for Olympic athletes through the 1920s, '30s and '40s. In 1984, the city — faced with a homelessness epidemic — converted New York's armories into shelters. Athletes still tried to utilize The Armory's facilities, even running around the thousands of beds that sat within the track's center, but eventually even that became impossible.
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In 1993, after fierce lobbying by non-profit The Armory Foundation, the city finally agreed to renovate The Armory and return it to its former glory as a track and field arena. Since then, The Armory Foundation has invested $50 million in the facility, which now hosts prestigious events like the UAA Championships, The Armory Collegiate Challenge and the Millrose Games.
"There have been more Olympians who have competed indoors at The Armory than in any building in America," Dr. Norb Sander, executive director of The Armory Foundation, said.
Its long tradition of hosting future track and field greats raises the questions whether the historic sports landmark has some invisible quality that turns athletes into international stars. Is The Armory an Olympic lucky charm?
"It is," Sander said with certainty. "It's considered among some to be the fastest track in the country."
In fact, athletes who compete at The Armory form such a connection with the track, that some even return to the facility looking for careers. Aliann Pompey, a Guyanese national record holder in track, now works for The Armory's college prep program for inner city youth, after competing there herself earlier in her career. Pompey is taking a brief sabbatical from work at The Armory to compete in the 400 meters for Guyana in London — it will be her fourth Olympic experience.
"It’s a great thing to be here and be around this great excitement and success," Sander told Metro. "It's terrific to be associated with it."
Among the 156 athletes who will compete in London after passing through The Armory, 55 are Americans including Julie Culley, Ryan Bailey, Justin Gatlin, Lashinda Demus and Jenny Simpson.
"The history and the quality of The Armory track makes it one of my favorite places to race," Simpson, who will run the 1500 meters in London, said. "The venue has been instrumental in providing great racing opportunities for many of the world's best athletes."