Thoughts on Duals and Pre

There’s a lot of talk recently about college dual meets, and how getting away from a dual-heavy schedule has been a very bad thing for college track. The Oregonian’s Ken Goe, one of the very last daily newspaper writers who covers track, is always talking them up. Track and Field News recently ran an online editorial lamenting their demise.

Over the last few days I’ve been doing some research on the “good old days” of college dual meets, and I’ve come to an interesting and unexpected conclusion: without dual meets, Steve Prefontaine would never have become the legendary Pre, the man beloved by Oregonians like few other sports stars (and rediscovered by Nike a decade ago, to their great profit).

The biggest problem with track at any level beyond high school is that we just don’t get to see the athletes compete much. The only sports whose stars compete less than tracksters are boxers and racehorses–not good company to be in, considering that those two were once among the most popular sports and now are nearly invisible.

But back in the era of Prefontaine, we did not have this problem. Oregon competed every weekend, as did most other college teams. Since most of the competitions featured only two or three teams, about half of the meets were at home.

Here are Pre’s race results from his four years of collegiate competition. Oregon home meets are in bold.

1970 1971
3/21- won 2 mile at Stanford/Fresno St tri-meet 3/20- won 2-mile at home quad meet
3/28- won 3 mile at UTEP dual 3/27- won mile at San Diego State dual
4/04- won mile/2-mile double at Washington dual 4/03- won 3-mile vs Stanford
4/11- won mile/2-mile double vs UCLA 4/10- won mile/2-mile double vs Washington
4/18- won 3-mile at Cal dual 4/17- won 3-mile vs Cal
4/25- won 3-mile vs Washington State 4/24- won mile at UCLA dual
5/02- won mile vs Oregon State 5/08- won 2-mile at Oregon State dual
5/09- won 3-mile at Pac-8 Northern Division 5/15- won 2-mile at Pac-8 Northern Division
5/16- won 3-mile at Pac-8 Championships 5/22- won mile/2-mile double at Pac-8 Championships
6/05- 3rd in mile at Oregon Twilight 6/06- 2nd in mile at Oregon Twilight
6/20- won 3-mile at NCAA Championships 6/19- won 3-mile at NCAA Championships
1972 1973
3/18- won 2-mile at Fresno State dual 3/17- won 2000 at home all-comers
3/25- won 6-mile at Bakersfield all-comers 3/24- won 6-mile at Bakersfield all-comers
4/01- won 2-mile at Oregon Invitational 3/31- won 2-mile at Oregon Invitational
4/08- won mile at Washington dual 4/07- won mile vs Washington
4/15- won 2-mile at Nebraska dual 4/14- won mile/3-mile double at home quad meet
4/23- won mile at Oregon Twilight 4/27- won mile at Oregon Twilight
4/29- won 5000 vs Washington State 5/05- won 3-mile at Oregon State dual
5/06- won 1500 vs Oregon State 5/19- won 3-mile at Pac-8 Championships
5/20- won 3-mile at Pac-8 Championships 5/29- won 2-mile at home all-comers
6/03- won 5000 at NCAA Championships 6/09- won 3-mile at NCAA Championships

(source: Jordan, Tom (1994). Pre!)

Take a good look at that. Racing week in and week out, with very few weeks off until the championship phase of the season, a lot of them at home, almost all of them wins.

From my perspective, Pre became an Oregon sports hero for a very simple reason. He regularly ran against and beat the Ducks’ most hated rivals, and did it with an attitude. That’s basically what college sports are all about. He’s like Lew Alcindor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Tommy McDonald — all he did was win.

It’s important to also see the other differences between then and now. Pre never ran an indoor race until his college days were over, and Oregon did barely enough with cross country to be ready for nationals. But this also means that Oregon track fit in with the changing of the sports seasons, and never competed with football or basketball for attention. He didn’t run that many more races than athletes do now, but his were in a more compressed time frame.

In any case, it was about competition against rivals. We don’t do track this way anymore. We don’t compete week in and week out. We don’t make winning the most important thing (let alone the only thing). No wonder everyone in the rest of the sports world thinks that the only thing more boring than track is field.

Oh, and if you want to cash in on the next Pre, you’re not going to. There won’t be another one. The things that made him are gone.

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5 Responses to Thoughts on Duals and Pre

  1. Tom Lingel says:

    Jesse:

    I could not agree more-check out the article that I wrote posted on the T&FN Website on April 11th-the only way to bring fans back is to have dual meets.

  2. Brian says:

    Interesting observations. But one major inaccuracy:

    “–Pre never ran an indoor race until his college days were over–”

    Prefontaine ran several indoor races as an Oregon undergrad. He ran the LA times meet every year [early 1972, the focus of a Sports Illustrated story; also a 1973 win over Liquori] plus an American Record 2-mile in the San Diego Jack In The Box meet in 1974–all reported in Track & Field News and in Tom Jordan’s biography.

  3. Brian says:

    P.S. Also ran in Portland. Again, covered in both media souces listed above. In fact, Jordan used as example of “how into it” Pre could be during a race.

    In all the above, he was wearing his Oregon singlet in the pictures.

  4. Bob Kellar says:

    I saw Pre run the 2-mile at the Oregon Indoor Invitational Meet at the Memorial Coliseum for six consecutive years (1970-1975), first as a UO runner, later as a grad. He literally electrified the crowd, and brought them right out of their seats. The first time I ever witnessed a “wave” was at MC in January 1972
    when Pre beat Gerry Lindgren and lapped Jim Ryun on his way to a US Collegiate 2Mile record. Absolutely phenomenal and unforgettable! The memory of it still gives me chills!

  5. Jim Seven says:

    I dredged 2 miles (not in the snow, uphill both ways) to see every dual meet at Hayward Field beginning in the mid 50′s as a 11 yr old. The reason I went was to hopefully see the Ducks win. The mst exciting thing in sports is a 4×400 with the meet on the line. 11 year olds sadly, don’t get that experience any more.

    I used to get so mad if Bowerman woudn’t double Dyrol Burleson in the 880 and the mile, resulting in a close dual meet loss. (By the way Burleson was a much “prettier” runner than Pre. I often feel he has not gt his due with all the PRe adulation).