Team USA was on home turf when they took the field for today’s at the Opening Ceremony for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
The field at Japan National Stadium is sodded with TifSport Bermudagrass, which was developed in south Georgia at the University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus. One of many grass varieties created and tested by UGA, TifSport is a dense, medium- to fine-textured grass bred to withstand high-traffic sports fields while tolerating herbicides.
In a couple days, the field will be resodded with Tifton grass, inspired by UGA’s Tifway, a hybrid bermudagrass that can stand up to heat, sun and wear and tear from sports.
The University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus is world renowned for its turfgrass research, with scientists like Glenn Burton leading innovation in turf since the 1950s.
In the years since, USDA and UGA researchers at the Tifton campus created Tifway and Tifdwarf, two bermudagrass hybrids that for years covered more golf courses, athletic fields and lawns that any other turf varieties in the world.
Wayne Hanna, a former professor of Crop and Soil Sciences and member of the Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, spent almost three decades developing cultivars with improved shade tolerance while maintaining a pretty, dense and dark green surface.
After carefully selecting and hybridizing “parent” plants with the traits the researchers were looking for came the real test.
“Tifton has very sandy soil, it rains a lot and then it doesn’t rain at all, there are bugs that attack plants (and people)—it’s a very tough place to survive for a lot of plants,” said Brian Schwartz, Hanna’s successor as a professor of Crop and Soil Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “But that makes it a very successful plant breeding location for almost all crops.”
Researchers spend anywhere from five to 10 years —and sometimes more — trying to kill the turfgrass through various methods. The grasses left standing are then tested throughout the state and then the Southeast and beyond.
The result of decades of testing, TifTuf, for example, is a bermudagrass that saves water and stands up to daily wear and tear due to superior drought and wear tolerance. Meanwhile, TifSport can stand up to pests and cold.
Another one of those last grasses standing was TifGrand, which has particularly appealing to sports venues since its 2008 release.
TifGrand bermudagrass is a dense, very dark green grass, and it will be the breed in the National Stadium for the Summer Paralympic Games in late August.
“It has a really thick root system that’s right at the top of the field for sports where your cleats are interacting within that top inch of soil or so,” Schwartz said. “People won’t just change out the Super Bowl stadium field just because you tell them it’s a really good grass. As a grass performs well over many years, then they start switching things out. And I think that’s how TifGrand really made its way into the Olympics.”