Prefontaine and Running Legends
Track Legend Steve Prefontaine was born in Coos Bay, on the Oregon Coast, on January 25, 1951. As a senior at Marshfield High School, he broke the two-mile American record. He signed on with the University of Oregon in 1969. At Oregon, he won seven NCAA titles, including 3-mile titles all four years. Although he was offered a six-figure contract to compete professionally, he chose to remain at the UO in Eugene, running as an amateur. He graduated with a major in communications and minor in architecture.
Prefontaine's profound effect was evident off the track. He volunteered his time at a local junior high school and at the Oregon State Penitentiary, where he began a running club for the inmates. He was also a vocal advocate for air-quality, petitioning for field-burning bans.
Pre seemed invincible, and there was a cry from competitors, and mocking from his fans, to try and "stop Pre" — but that was not easily done. During his 24-year lifetime, Pre set the bar high for future runners. He accumulated eleven U.S. indoor and outdoor track records along with nine sub-4-minute miles. Best remembered as a running prodigy, Steve Prefontaine prevailed as a long-distance runner and went on to finish fourth in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
Tragically killed in a car accident in 1975, many people continue to honor him by visiting his memorial "Pre's Rock" located at the site of the crash near the intersection of Birch and Skyline Boulevard in Eugene. Note: parking is limited and pedestrians should use caution on this narrow road. A new sidewalk and rail has recently been installed to separate visitors from traffic.
The Steve Prefontaine Memorial Jogging Trail is popular with resident runners and visitors alike. Pre's Trail winds through Eugene's Alton Baker Park, located east of the Ferry Street Bridge along paths he used to run. Inspired by European running trails, Pre was pursuing the creation of this official trail prior to his death. His former UO Coach Bill Bowerman, fellow runners and the Eugene community later fulfilled his dream by spearheading the completion of Eugene's first chip trail.
The bark-covered trail can be easily accessed from West Alton Baker Park where there is a paved parking lot. The trail is also accessible via two footbridges: the Autzen Footbridge or the Knickerbocker Footbridge. To maintain the integrity of the trail's running surface, please do not ride bicycles on the path.
Other tributes to Pre include:
- The Prefontaine Classic, which attracts the best athletes in the world to compete annually in Eugene
- A multi-media piece presented by the Eugene Symphony.
- Statues of Pre at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon
- A documentary, "Fire on the Track: The Prefontaine Story," narrated by the late local author Ken Kesey
- Two movies: "Prefontaine" and "Without Limits" ("Without Limits" was filmed at Hayward Field)
- Tom Jordan's biography "PRE" which was the basis for the movie "Prefontaine"
- A memorial at the Coos Bay Art Museum
- A monument in Choshi, Japan
WORLD CLASS TRACK & FIELD ATHLETES
Other running legends and Olympians who came out of coach Bowerman's UO "stable" include Alberto Salazar, Mary Decker Slaney, Lance Deal, Mac Wilkins and Bill McChesney.
Present day Olympians from Eugene include Andrew Wheating, Devon Allen, English Gardner, Phyllis Francis, Nick Symmonds, Galen Rupp, Matthew Centrowitz and Ashton Eaton.
Breaking the decathlon world record at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track and Field right here at Hayward Field, Ashton Eaton is a beloved hometown favorite and the "World's Greatest Athlete." He took home the gold medal for the decathlon at the 2012 Olympics in London. In 2015, he beat his own world record at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. And in 2016, he won another Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.
Track star ascensions in Eugene have included the rise of Edward Cheserek, Ben Blankenship, Jenna Prandini and Deajah Stevens.
Learn more about local athletes at Hayward Hall, adjacent Hayward Field. You might even see some of them training on the field.
Eugene's fertile training ground promises to yield new crops of dedicated runners as the seasons progress.