EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — They all had stories about how the long-distance runner known as “Pre” gave them motivation. How they considered it an honor to race in his backyard, in his signature event, at one of the biggest track meets in the world.
The presence of the late Steve Prefontaine occupies an important place in these places. This is the house that Pre built (even though Hayward Field has been renovated and resurfaced). The 5,000 meters was Pre’s race.
Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway raced the world championship final on Sunday in a way that Pre could have done himself – racing not just to win, but to dictate how the race would go.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to win than here,” Ingebrigtsen said after winning in 13 minutes, 9.24 seconds.
All over Eugene there are reminders of Prefontaine, who died in a car crash in 1975 at age 24. There’s Pre’s Trail, a bark-covered loop that meanders along the Willamette River, where runners of all skill levels flock. There’s Pre’s Rock, the marker on the side of the road where he died which has become a pilgrimage for runners. Fans wore Pre-branded shirts — including ones with his distinctive bushy mustache — all week.
There are films about his life. Most notably, “Prefontaine”, starring Jared Leto as Pre, and “Without Limits”, starring Billy Crudup, which were released around the same time.
Sam Parsons did not medal in the 5000m. The rider from Delaware who represents Germany finished last in the final. But he still felt like a rock star for a reason – running to the place Pre made famous.
“I wish he could be here watching,” said Parsons, who can quote Prefontaine’s film “Without Limits” line by line. “I wish I could have shaken his hand and taken a picture with him. I hope he will be proud of me.
Growing up, Parsons had posters on his Préfontaine wall. His favorite was the one in Pre’s eyes that said, “Where are all the rock star runners?”
Parsons decided to be one.
“I was a 5 foot nothing kid from Delaware in the middle of nowhere and out of place. But Pre made this sport cool for me,” Parsons said. “It made me want to keep going. … He did it so you could talk to the girls and have some swagger – be the guy on campus.
American Grant Fisher watched Prefontaine films before cross-country meets on a portable DVD player.
Just for more inspiration.
“He started the running craze and the running boom in his day,” said Fisher, who finished sixth. “It’s just cool to run the same event as him. He laid the groundwork for it.
Prefontaine played at the University of Oregon, where he won numerous NCAA titles. He finished fourth at the 1972 Olympics in the 5000 m. He set American records from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters.
His trainer, Bill Bowerman, would become one of the founders of a shoe company called Nike. The swoosh is ubiquitous in Eugene and a big reason an event as big as the World Championships would come to a college town like this.
“Pre is someone who I hope lives through me,” Parsons said. “I hope I can continue his legacy.”
Ingebrigtsen certainly competed like him – with intensity.
Angered by winning silver in the 1,500 meters a few days earlier, Ingebrigtsen wasn’t about to give anyone a chance in the 5,000. About halfway through the race, which took place in 90-degree heat, he took the gamble of stepping out of traffic for a moment to take advantage of a water station set up in the middle of Track. Not everyone would do this. Someone you trust would do it. Shortly after Ingebrigtsen hydrated, he planned his move. When he took off, no one could catch him.
“Today was not a tactical race. I just won it because I was the better runner,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Pre couldn’t have said it better. At least, that’s what all the Norwegian greats told Ingebrigtsen. He heard the stories and saw some of the Prefontaine races.
“I know there were a lot of racing legends in the stands cheering me on,” Ingebrigtsen said. “I am very proud to do that here. I am very honored.
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