Dual Meet Hall of Fame: Steve Prefontaine

Pre vs UCLA in April '70, his first college meet at Hayward Field

In each class of honorees for my Dual Meet Hall of Fame, I try to spread around the choices in event areas, eras, and regions. This year’s choice for distance runner, 70s dude and the Pacific northwest is one of the most intense competitors of all time, Steve Prefontaine.

A year ago I argued that dual meets were a huge part of why Prefontaine became the bigger-than-life Pre, the hero of Duck fans. All he did was win.

So many of his dual meet exploits require the word epic. There were crazy doubles, like a 3:56/13:06 mile/3-mile double. There were fast times, like his 13:29.6 American Record. But one race stands out above them all, possibly the greatest race ever held in a dual meet. It was against Oregon State on May 6, 1972. From the following day’s Eugene Register-Guard:

Pre during his epic 3:56/13:06 double in '73

In a race that those who saw will never forget — and in five years 100,000 people will say they were there — Steve Prefontaine reached back for more intestines than one man’s stomach should hold in repelling the inspired 1,500 meter challenge of Oregon State’s Hailu Saturday at Hayward Field.

Bill Bowerman called it one of the greatest races he has ever seen. It will forever overshadow Oregon’s obliteration of OSU in the dual meet…

The results say that Prefontaine won in 3:39.8 … and that Hailu was three strides back in 3:40.4.

As Pre said later, “I wanted the race to be a question of who had the most guts, not who had the most speed.”

The 800 meter lead went to Pre in 1:57 and he had it at three laps when Haile made his move.

The crowd [of more than 9,000] sensed the time had come for Pre to be tested. For a moment or two, as they battled stride for stride down the back stretch, there was a lingering doubt whether Pre could repel the challenge of the quicker African.

Pre used his superior experience, moving gradually over on the track as the two moved in front of the east grandstand. He forced Hailu to move wider than he wanted and the Ethiopian could never forge ahead.

Slowly, Pre pulled away around the turn and, although he wobbled the last 30 yards from sheer exhaustion, he hung on to win.

In his biography of the man, Pre!, Tom Jordan called it “the quintessential Prefontaine race”, and Eugene Register-Guard sportswriter Ron Bellamy listed it among the best races he ever saw.

Here is Pre’s complete record in collegiate dual meets.

3/21/70 at Fresno St w/ Stanford 1st 2-mile 8:40.0
3/28/70 at UTEP 1st 3-mile 13:48.8
4/4/70 at Washington 1st 1-mile 4:03.2
1st 2-mile 8:51.6
4/11/70 at Cal 1st 3-mile 13:30.6
4/18/70 vs UCLA 1st (tie) 1-mile 4:05.3
1st 2-mile 8:46.4
4/25/70 vs Washington St 1st 3-mile 13:12.8
5/2/70 vs Oregon State 1st 1-mile 4:00.4
3/20/71 home quadrangular 1st 2-mile 8:33.2
3/27/71 at San Diego State 1st 1-mile 4:00.2
4/3/71 vs Stanford 1st 3-mile 13:01.6 dual meet record
4/10/71 vs Washington 1st 1-mile 4:02.6
1st 8:36.2
4/17/71 vs Cal 1st 3-mile 13:34.0
4/24/71 at UCLA 1st 1-mile 3:59.4
5/8/71 at Oregon State 1st 2-mile 8:42.4
3/18/72 at Fresno State 1st 2-mile 8:55.4
4/8/72 at Washington 1st 1-mile 4:07.3
4/15/72 at Nebraska 1st 2-mile 8:35.2
4/29/72 vs Washington St 1st 5000m 13:29.6 American Record
5/6/72 vs Oregon State 1st 1500m 3:39.8 dual meet record
4/7/73 vs Washington 1st 1-mile 4:03.2
1st 2-mile 8:51.6
4/14/73 home quadrangular 1st 1-mile 3:56.8 dual meet record
1st 3-mile 13:06.4
5/5/73 at Oregon State 1st 3-mile 13:27.2
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