I was living in Eugene at 2010 Alder Street, a member of the Oregon women's track and field team, when I got the early morning call from my frantic roommate, who had dated Steve Prefontaine for a brief period and was spending the night at a friend's house. "He's dead!" she screamed over the phone. "He's dead!"
The Register Guard on my front porch early that morning, May 30, 1975, with this picture on the front page, told me what had happened and left me empty. It seemed like the whole of Eugene had been evacuated when I went for my half-hearted morning run. We couldn't believe it. Pre was dead. Despite the many Ducks that were stars, and I am talking about big stars: Billy McChesney, Matt Centrowitz, Alberto Salazar, Joachim Cruz, Rudy Chapa, Paul Geis and countless others, Pre was Pre. He galvanized us as disciples of distance, and as a track and field community. He lured us to the track and urged us to be better people. He would have been something in Montreal.
I attended a little-publicized event in Eugene in conjunction with the 2008 Prefontaine Classic, the last of a series of five events sponsored by the Department of Folklore Studies at the University of Oregon entitled, "Track Town Traditions and the Culture of Running." The event was Prefontaine: The Running Legend and his Legacy. We saw the film: Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story (which is now being mass produced with full interview footage from Bill Bowerman, Bill Dellinger, Pre's teammates and others) followed by discussion with Linda Prefontaine, Geoff Hollister (Nike pioneer and author), Scott Chambers (executive producer of the film), Pat Tyson (coach at Mead High School, South Eugene High School and now head track and field coach at Gonzaga, and former UO runner), and Mark Feig. Bill Dellinger was slated to attend but did not make it. I saw a lot of people from my former Oregon days: Feig, who was considered Prefontaine's little brother, my former Oregon coach Tom Heinonen and his wife Janet, the first coach of Athletics West, Harry Johnson, and others. The discussion was frank. Prefontaine had a lot of girlfriends. Pat Tyson told some great trailer stories. We also heard about Pre's work with convicts at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, and his battle with the AAU. The Olympic Track and Field Trials belong in Eugene. Track is back. If Prefontaine were able to attend this year's Olympic Trials in Eugene, he would be 57 years old.
Oregon Milesplit doesn't have a press pass to the US Olympic Trials. We don't have a photo pass either, but we plan to do some major coverage from section U, Row 19. Stay tuned to The Women From Oregon(c).