The Pre Classic began as the Hayward Restoration meeting in 1973. Bill Bowerman asked Steve Prefontaine if he would race in a meet built to put some much-needed repairs on the hallowed Hayward Field.
Steve Prefontaine did just that. In the first year, he took on Olympic gold medalist Dave Wottle in the mile. Wottle, the 800m Oly champ, went by Prefontaine with 440 to go but Prefontaine persisted, as was his desire to win. Wottle ran 3:53.3 for the mile, and Pre ran 3:54.6. At the time, Wottle had run the second fastest American time in the mile.
In 1974, Rick Wolhuter ran a 1:44.1 for the 880 yards, setting a new World Record. With his bouncy stride, the Chicago Track Club star just ate up the track, with Art Sandison second in 1:51.
Steve Prefontaine had invited 1972 Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter to run a 3 mile. Remember, Shorter had serious wheels, having set AR at 2 miles indoors (Pre, then broke it). In the 3 mile, Frank Shorter took the lead with 300 yards to go, and the 12,000 fans were on their feet, as their hero was looking very mortal. From somewhere inside, Steve Prefontaine put together a furious kick and took the near victory away from the Olympic champion, running a fine 12:51.4 American record.
Kenny Moore with Steve Prefontaine, photo by Jeff Johnson, curated by Walt Chadwick
On May 29, 1975, Steve Prefontaine won the 5,000m at the 3rd Hayward Restoration meeting, running near his best and fastest time in the world for the year. Early in the hours of May 30, 1975, Steve Prefontaine died underneath his MG in what was reported as a one-car accident.
That next night, Walter Cronkite, the iconic CBS news anchor, announced Steve Prefontaine’s death on the nightly news. I recall that announcement, and as a junior in high school, feeling a pain in the pit of my stomach. My buddy, Bob Lucas, and I were shocked that our hero was gone at age twenty-five. What a fucking waste, I thought. I still have the same thought 48 years later.
On June 1, 1975, the Oregon Track Club renamed the meeting the Prefontaine Classic. In 1978, Nike came on as a sponsor, and they have never left.
This writer has been to 35 of the last 37 meetings. It is a rite of spring for me, and this year, it is the end of the amazing 2023 season.
Sometimes, if I wipe the sleep from my eyes, I can picture Steve Prefontaine, in Oregon track jacket and jeans, holding a beer in a paper bag in one hand and a spicy burrito in the other hand, sitting up in the stands, looking at all of the events. In his book Pre!, Tom Jordan, the long-time Nike Pre meet director, who retired a couple of years ago, noted that Steve loved the three-ring circus of track & field.
Well, the 73-year-old Pre, like the 25-year-old Pre, would have loved this celebration of his sport.
I would have loved to have talked to him about my favorite events on day 1:
The satisfaction of a race well run, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun
1. Rai Benjamin ran the best stretch of his career and overcame his sadness over Budapest to take down Karsten Warholm, his nemesis, in the 400m hurdles, 46.39 to 46.51, setting a meet record. The road to Paris looks much more inviting for the American record holder.
Christian Coleman roars before the 100m at Pre, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun.
2. The Men’s 100m, where Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles battled to the end, with Coleman getting the nod this time.
Noah Lyles, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun
Pre would have enjoyed Noah Lyles, who is both an entertainer and a class sprinter; Pre got that, as he was similar. Pre got that, he was both an elite runner and entertainer. He felt a responsibility to run well in front of his people. Noah Lyles told the NBC’s Lewis Johnson that his racing in Eugene was a celebration tour for his fans and the American public.
Sha’Carri Richardson celebrates her season, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun.
3. The Women’s 100m, where Sha’Carri Richardson took 4th in a tough field and enjoyed the accolades of the crowd, celebrating her three medals from Budapest. Sha’Carri Richardson, after her three medals in Budapest, has seemed to relax, but there is also that need to control her environment. She is about to focus on Paris 2024.
Chase Ealey sets AR in shot put of 20.76m, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun.
4. Pre liked the throws and would have enjoyed Chase Ealey after two World Champ wins, setting a new AR of 20.76m in front of the Hayward crowd. Chase knew she had thrown a good throw but did not realize she had set a new record. The world is full of surprises.
The battle of the milers, Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Yared Nuguse, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun
5. The smile on Pre’s face after that Men’s Mile would have been infectious. I think Pre would have smiled over the trash talk by Jakob Ingebrigtsen to Yared Nuguse as they battled to the finish, 3:43.73 to 3:43.97! Pre would have delighted with Faith Kipyegon and her fearless running over 1,500m and 5,000m! Her absolute domination of the 1,500m in Eugene would have gained his respect.
Faith KIpyegon wins once again, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun
After day one, Pre might have shown up with a large coffee (black) from Dunkin Donuts to enjoy the field events.
6. Yaroslava Mahuchikh would have entranced him. That the young Ukrainian could concentrate on her craft while her family and friends were dealing with Russian thugs destroying her homeland would have seemed, in Pre talk, like a huge injustice. Nicole Olysagers’ meticulous note-taking on all of her jumps would have amused him and fascinated him all at once.
Yaroslava Mahucikh, photo by Diamond League AG
7. The Men’s shot put battle with the 3 shot kings, Tomas Walsh, Ryan Crouser, and Joe Kovacs, would have captured his attention. He respected his rivals and would have liked shot putters’ genuine affection for each other. Pre would have respected that the 3 best shot putters in the world always come to Prefontaine and put on a real show!
World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
shot put, Crouser, USA, Kovacs, USA
8. The Women’s 5,000 meters would have had him screaming on his feet, cajoling Gudaf Tsegay to find one more or two more tenths of a second. Tsegay’s last kilometer in a mind-bending 2:43.2 gave her a 14:00.21 final time. Steve Prefontaine would have understood the picture of Gudaf embracing the pain of the final two laps. A kindred spirit.
Gudaf Tsegay would run 14:00.21, a new wonderful WR! photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun.
9. Mondo Duplantis would have made him smile. How can the young Swede via LSU continue to soar? Because he absolutely loves what he does and is made for the pole vault.
Mondo Duplantis, USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix
Gold Label track & field meet
May 26, 2023, Los Angeles, USA, by Kevin Morris
10. The Men’s 3,000 meters with Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Yomif Kejelcha dipping at the tape would have been an attention grabber. Steve Prefontaine would have gotten the young Norwegian’s desire to race and take on all comers in each season.
The battle over 3,000m came down to centimeters! photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogrun
Sipping his coffee on day two, Steve Prefontaine might have sat up in the stands, chatting with young and old about the meet and perhaps offering advice to some young Oregon runners about embracing the pain and enjoying the simplicity and complexity of our sport.
The 2023 Nike Prefontaine Classic is a litmus test of Nike’s support of track and field. Each and every year, as I make my pilgrimage, I wonder where management sees the sport.
Mark Parker, former CEO of Nike, used to remind me each time we chatted that “track and field is in Nike’s DNA.” This meeting seems to reinforce that comment.
This year was truly complicated. By pushing the meet until the end of the season, Nike had to contend with an Oregon vs. Hawaii home football game, with 60,000 fans, at the other facility that the late John Slusher built at the behest of Phil Knight.
The challenges of a long track season, going from February to September now, complicates the situation, but somehow, Co-Meet director John Capriotti, retired from Sports Marketing in Beaverton, was able to use his powers of persuasion to cajole some tired athletes from Europe to the house that Phil and Penny built.
Shamier Little, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris
The sanctuary of sport in Eugene has never looked better, and the wonderful weather, incredible crowd, and amazingly focused athletes brought to North America the finest meeting in some time.
Noted statistician Tom Casacky told me that the first day was the most disruptive in terms of changes in World Bests, Meet records, and shake-ups on top ten lists since the first day of the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials!
What I know is this:
I have never seen two more powerful track and field days in my three decades plus of visiting Eugene to worship our sport.
The celebration of the global nature of our sport was obvious. It is clear that we have wonderful stars who put their time and energy into promoting the sport. That perfect storm of incredible fitness, an overly enthusiastic crowd, great weather, and a lightning-fast facility will make the 2023 Nike Prefontaine a meet to compare to all others.
Valarie Allman, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris
As I was leaving the Media Tent for the last time today, Jeff Oliver, Press Officer, told me that Pre would be the best-ranked meeting of the year.
I think that would make the namesake of the meet happy, even as he would tell us not to rest on our laurels, as we are only as good as our last race.
See you May 25, 2024.