Collage of photos from the record 3-mile race won by Oregon freshman Steve Prefontaine at a dual Washington State – Oregon meet at Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon, April 25, 1970

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Collage of photos from the record 3-mile race won by Oregon freshman Steve Prefontaine at a dual Washington State – Oregon meet at Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon, April 25, 1970
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Image by The Happy Rower
Collage of photos from the record 3-mile race won by Oregon freshman Steve Prefontaine at a dual Washington State – Oregon meet at Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon, April 25, 1970. This was the first time the 3-mile had been run at Hayward Field in a dual meet. Pre’s winning time of 13:12.8 was America’s fastest 3-mile in two years, and made Pre the fastest 3-miler in Oregon history. His previous best 3-mile time was 13:30.6 two weeks prior. His new time was the 7th fastest US 3-mile ever run, and the fastest in the world year-to-date. The world record was held by Australian Ron Clarke with 12:50.4.

The content of this descriptive narrative is largely quoted or reworded from two articles by Eugene Register-Gaurd Sports Editor, Jerry Uhrhammer, in the April 26, 1970 edition.

The left photo shows Pre in the first mile with WSU runner Rick Riley to his right. Next shows the wet, cold conditions of the race. Pre breaks the finish tape in the third photo, and in the right photo he acknowledges the cheers of the fans after the race. All these photos are likely taken by Eugene Register-Guard photographer Joe Matheson–the two right photos for sure as they were published in the paper April 26, 1970. The third finish line photo also appeared in the I May 1970, issue of Track and Field News. Leave a comment below if you know whether other photographers took the left two photos.

When Pre went to bed the night before this race he led the US in the 3-mile that year. When he woke up the next morning, he read that Florida runner Jack Bacheler had run 13:13.4 in the Drake Relays the day before, beating Pre’s time. Undaunted by rain, high winds, and a brisk temperature in the 40s, the gritty 19 year old freshman took back the lead honors with a 13:12.8 effort before 6200 fans. He ripped off a 63 second first lap, followed by 65, 65, and 64 en route to the first mile time of 4:17, a sub-13 minute 3-mile pace. WSU’s Rick Riley, who earlier that day timed second in the mile race with an all-time best of 4:02.8, shadowed Pre for the first mile, then dropped back and finally out after another lap.

Pre was feeling good, "But after the first mile, I slowed down a little bit . . . I didn’t want to go all out and burn myself out." His next four laps were 65, 67, 70, and 66 seconds for a two-mile time of 8:45. This was faster than his 2-mile winning time of 8:46.3 against UCLA the week prior.

Pre said he was feeling his way. "I wanted to go out and run and just see how I felt . . . I wasn’t excited and I just didn’t let any pressure get put on me." Thus, at the two-mile point he still felt strong. He wasn’t fading.

The next two laps were 69s. With two laps left, Pre knew he was within range of Bacheler’s 24-hour old time, so he started picking up the pace. The next lap was in 67 seconds. Pre then began sprinting the final 440 yards as the crowd helped him along with a solid roar. He kept his eyes fixed on the scoreboard clock as he drove down the stretch to the tape with a 62 second last lap.

Pre, with a big grin, told Oregon’s athletic trainer Larry Standifer after the race it was the "Easiest 3-mile I ever ran." Standifer thought out loud, "What is he going to say when he runs one where he has to work hard?" Pre told his teammates after a cooling-down victory lap, "That was easy. I’m ready, man. I’m ready to do anything."

When reporters asked if he was motivated by Bachler’s run time the day before, Pre replied, "Yeah, that’s probably so. I just figured it’s time to quit fooling around and get out and do something."

What left him encouraged was the relative ease of the win. "That wasn’t an all-out effort. With three laps to go, I felt like doing it in 62s. I wished there was somebody in front of me setting the pace."

"A great run," said Oregon coach Bill Bowerman. "I didn’t realize he was capable of running that fast on that bad a day. On a good day? Yes."

When askd about Pre’s fast mile points in the race and Pre’s expressed ease in winning and what that meant as to his limits, Bowerman answered, "Who knows. But on a good day, he should go under 13 minutes." [Pre did it June 25, 1971 with a 12:58.6 at the AAU championships in Eugene; his fastest 3-mile ever was 12:51.4, a US record set June 8, 1974 during the last Restoration Meet at Hayward Field, Eugene–it was the world 3rd fastest time ever] Bowerman noted Pre ran into a headwind for part of each lap, and that would, overall, hold a runner back somewhat.

At the same meet, Pre’s Oregon teammate Roscoe Divine ran a 4:01.8 mile to Rick Riley’s 4:02.8. Roscoe set a new meet record, besting Oregon runner Dyrol Burleson’s 4:02.5 in 1961. Riley also competed against Pre in this 3-mile race the same day.

[Pre, Rick Riley, and Frank Shorter were chosen for the AAU US Team 3-mile squad to compete in Europe the summer of 1970]

Ten days later, Roscoe and Pre would finish 1-2 in the mile at the Oregon Twilight Meet in Eugene. Both finished in sub-4 minute efforts, including Pre’s first-ever sub-4 with 3:57.4. Roscoe ran 3:56.3.

3-mile finishing times:

1. Pre (OR) 13:12.8 – new meet, field, and school record. The old field record was by 13:32.4 by Oregon runner Knut Kvalheim in 1969, who also set the old school record of 13:14.6 in 1968.
2. Steve Savage (OR) 13:50.0
3. Mile Lyons (OR) 13:56.0

Thanks to Pre’s showing and that of the 440 yard meet record set by Weldon Vance (OR), Tom Morrow’s (OR) meet record in the steeplechase, and Oregon’s 400 relay team win that tied the meet record, Oregon won the meet versus WSU in a dual meet for the first time in three years, 83.5 to 70.5. Oregon won 9 of 18 events.

With the team vistory decided in the 3-mile, Bowerman entered a "second string" unit in the final relay. The meet win was tainted by these Ducks who did not take off their sweat suits to run and clowned around in the race. Many Duck fans left muttering about poor sportsmanship.

Bowerman was also upset about the "hamming" and chewed the squad out in a closed meeting afterwards.

"I told ’em it was bush league . . . and bad manners to run like that," said Bowerman, who also apologized to WSU coach Mooberry.

"Bill really chewed," said one duck after the meeting.

Oregon Freshman Steve Prefontaine, 97, Running a personal best time of 8:39.2 in winning the indoor 2-mile event at the 10th annual Oregon Invitational Track and Field meet, Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Jan 31, 1970
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Image by The Happy Rower
Steve Prefontaine, 97, Running a personal best time of 8:39.2 in winning the indoor 2-mile event at the 1oth annual Oregon Invitational Track and Field meet, Portland, Saturday evening, Jan 31, 1970. Photo by Gary Lineburg in the I Feb 1970 issue of Track and Field News.

Pre ran this race before a capacity crowd of 9700 in Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. Although he had been hit by the flu the past week, Pre said before the race that he was "hoping for around 8:40." With an enthusiastic "hometown" crowd urging him on, the Oregon freshman forged his own pace on the 11-lap banked board track. He passed the mile in 4:21 and came home in 8:39.2, his personal best ever. A closely bunched field finished 8 seconds behind Pre.

"I’ve had a chest cold all week, said Pre, still panting after his win. "I was in bed last week with a 102-degree temperature and it cut down my training, but maybe I needed the rest." He acknowledged his plan was to forge into the lead immediately and try to break 8:40.

"I like to run in front," he said. "I get in front and I can relax." Pre was never headed, as Ole Oleson of Southern California stayed near for the first several laps, but soon dropped well back. Ex-Oregon distance runner Kenny Moore placed 6th and John Anderson, son of Eugene, Oregon, mayor Les Anderson, placed 10th.

2-mile event finishing times:

1. Pre (Oregon) 8:39.2
2. Spencer Lyman (OR St) 8:47.4
3. Norm Trerise (Vancouver Olympic Club) 8:47.6
4. Steve Savage (Oregon) 8:47.8
5. Seppa Malela (PSU) 8:51.3
6. Kenny Moore (Army) 8:54.5
7. Doug Welbe (Pacific Coast Club) no time
8. Lasse Veren (BYU) no time
9. Ole Oleson (USC) no time
10. John Anderson (Cornell) no time

The above info was derived form an article by Neil Cawood in the Eugene Register Guard, 1 Feb 1970, and the I Feb 1970 issue of Track and Field News

Also, of note–this is one of the very few images of Pre wearing shoes not made by Adidas or Nike. He is wearing Puma shoes.