The Return of a Classic
Eugene, Oregon, known as "TrackTown USA", is the frequent host to star-studded track events from the Olympic Trials to the NCAA Championships. Next year, Eugene will even host the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 for the first time in the U.S. But there is one legendary annual track meet that personifies this "Running Capital of the U.S." best: the Prefontaine Classic.
Considered one of the best track and field meets in the world, the 2021 Nike Prefontaine Classic returns to Hayward Field after a two-year hiatus from Eugene. This was a fleeting pause on what has become the longest running outdoor invitational track and field meet in the nation. Now the "Pre Classic" will be back bigger, bolder and brighter at the fantastically re-imagined Hayward Field. And it will be an incredible competition and the not-to-be-missed event this summer!
The Prefontaine Classic is now part of the international and distinguished Wanda Diamond League. Founded in 2010, fourteen elite track and field invitationals take place around the world annually from Paris to Doha to Shanghai to Eugene, Oregon. The series is in the top tier of the World Athletics' (formerly known as the IAAF) one-day competitions. In 2023, the Pre Classic at Hayward Field will serve as the Diamond League Final, which will be held in the U.S. for the first time.
What made the Prefontaine Classic the legendary track meet that it is? For starters, the inspiration of its namesake, Steve Prefontaine. It was a track meet sparked from the love and admiration Eugene held for its local track hero, and was developed with the enthusiasm of track meet directors like Tom Jordan.
To commemorate Steve Prefontaine for his inspirational and legendary distance running, a track meet in his name was established at Hayward Field in 1975. "Pre" was honored for his hard driving dedication to his sport, his call for the rights of amateur athletes, and for his grassroots environmental activism. He was Oregon's own, growing up in Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast and setting the national high school 2-mile record at Marshfield High School.
Pre went on to win every collegiate track race, all distances, that he ran for the University of Oregon. Running alongside the then unknown Phil Knight (Nike) and under Coach Bill Bowerman, renowned for coaching many a track champion, Pre was already a local celebrity. After finishing fourth in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, he was preparing to compete again in 1976 Olympics, with many believing the gold was within his grasp.
Tragically, his life was cut short in a 1975 motor vehicle accident, and the Pre Classic came together that same year. Like Pre himself, the Prefontaine Classic has become a track meet of legendary proportions.
Former Track and Field News contributor Tom Jordan stepped into the role of Pre Classic meet director in 1984. Noting that track meets often had long pauses between events — testing the attention-span of even the most dedicated track fan — Tom set a new pace for the Pre Classic. He compressed the event schedule with back-to-back action happening across the field, a track and field event meet model that has caught on around the world.
Along with its quicker tempo, the champions that starting dotting the roster drew national attention. It seems that competing in front of Eugene's passionate fan base was an experience that every track athlete could appreciate. The track audience was informed, attentive and cared about track—and they showed up to cheer! In the 90s, Jordan met Steve Miller who was the current head of Nike's global athletics. Miller arranged for Sergey Bubka, one of the biggest names in the sport at that time, to compete in the 1993 Pre Classic. And with all eyes on Bubka, he almost set a world record. Other athletes noticed, and eager to experience Hayward Field's "magic" too, they started to show up, and also to break records here.
Recognizing Jordan's contributions and tireless dedication to this event among others, Travel Lane County awarded him with the Sports Legacy Award in 2020.
The Pre Classic Today
When the guns go off August 20-21, 2021; marking the 46th annual Prefontaine Classic, fans will witness some of today's most watched track stars compete. While the bulk of events take place Saturday, distance events are held the day before at twilight when the temperatures are cooler. The Pre Classic "Women's Distance Night" will be held Friday night, and for the first time, your Saturday meet ticket will also include a reserved seat at the sought-after distance events. Setting the tone for Women's Distance Night will be in-stadium commentary conducted by Katharine Merry, herself a former Olympic medalist in the 400 meter. And to make it all the more special, Hayward Field's dedication and opening ceremony will take place.
Watch for 19-year-old Athing Mu in the 800-meter field. She achieved the world's fastest time this year at last month's U.S. Olympic Team Trials, making her the second-fastest American ever in the 800-meter field.
You will also see Sha'carri Richardson, one of the biggest personalities and fastest women in the sport, running both the 100 and 200. These highly anticipated races will be Richardson's first since serving a one-month suspension that caused her to just miss competing in Tokyo.
Additional highlights to note include the Pre Classic 800 which all three members of the newly-formed U.S. Olympic team will run. And pay attention to the "Pre Classic Mile", also now known as the Bowerman Mile, which is considered the greatest race in the U.S. racking up more times under four minutes than any other American meet.
The events schedule includes:
- 100 meter
- 200 meter
- 800 meter
- Bowerman Mile
- 2-Mile/5000 meter
- Triple Jump
- Shot Put
- 800 meter (Women's Distance)
- 100 meter
- 200 meter
- 1500 meter
- 3000 meter Steeplechase
- 400 meter Hurdles
- High Jump
- Pole Vault
To purchase tickets to the event, visit the GoDucks website. The Nike Prefontaine Classic will also be live-streamed on USATF.TV on Friday night and shown live on NBC internationally on Saturday.
A Legacy Celebrated
Tributes to Steve Prefontaine go beyond the Pre Classic. There is a dedicated bark chip running path dedicated to him, a memorial plaque at the roadside site of his death and his portrait graces many a mural or backdrop. The Eugene Symphony is compiling a multi-media musical tribute piece to be composed by David Schiff. Along with the Oregon Contemporary Theatre, they are accepting written submissions from his friends, family and fans about how Pre impacted their lives and what he meant to them, that may be included in the final production. The tribute will be performed on June 4, 2022.