'He had the charisma': Pre's legacy

EUGENE, Ore. - Andrew Wozniak added his yellow Livestrong bracelet to the running shoes and trophies and t-shirts that surround the likeness of a runner like no other etched into stone along Skyline Boulevard.

"For me, I really like that he had the charisma and the charismatic attitude, and he was willing to do whatever it took and go through whatever pains he had to go through," said Wozniak, in town from Danville, Calif., with his father for the Prefontaine Classic.

Their first stop in Track Town USA: Pre's Rock.

Forty years ago Friday night, Steve Prefontaine attended a party near Hendricks Park.

Shortly after midnight in the early morning hours of May 30, 1975, Prefontaine lost control of his car and crashed.

He didn't survive.

Pre was 24 years old.

The competition that carries his name - now part of the global elite IAAF Diamond League series - returns to historic Hayward Field this weekend.

The Friday evening portion of the Prefontaine Classic is free to the public. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., with a special tribute to the event's namesake later in the evening on some of track's most hallowed ground.

Track lives at Hayward Field, home to the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic trials, this year's NCAA championships, the 2014 IAAF Junior World Championships and the 2021 IAAF Word Championships, a global sporting event second only to the Olympics.

And Prefontaine lives at Hayward, in memorial and spirit.

"It's a great memory," his sister Linda Prefontaine said this week, sitting in the empty stands where fans cried, "Stop Pre!" "It's mixed emotions of course."

Prefontaine grew up in Coos Bay, Oregon, the same town where University of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich grew up a generation later.

Born to a father of French-Canadian descent and a mother of German ancestry, Pre showed little interest in running as a youth.

"What kind of crazy nut would run two to three hours a day; I'll never do that," Linda recalls her brother saying.

That changed.

"Pretty amazing when you find something that you actually love to do," Linda said.

Stardom followed at Marshfield High School. Pre went on to run for legendary coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman at Oregon.

Pre never lost a race that was more than a mile long.

"Sometimes he might not have been the most talented person in the field, but that didn't matter," said Tom Jordan, director of the Prefontaine Classic. "He was going to go out and, as he said, 'put crap in their legs.'And that's what he did."

Jordan said Pre's aggressive, brash style came out in many ways.

"He would make predictions. He would say, I'm going to go out and run such and such, and then he'd go do it," he said. "Kind of like a Mohammed Ali thing, and that of course contributed to the charisma and the mystique.

"He was sort of the first superstar of track and field in the United States."

Linda, the younger of Pre's two sisters, played tennis at Oregon.

She reflected on the lasting legacy of her brother's life.

"If you're going to use one word, I would say inspiration," she said. "He inspires not only athletes, but he inspires the non-athlete to do the best that they can do."

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