Echoes of Steve Prefontaine are all over Eugene.
The likeness of the legendary runner graces city walls, art galleries, and even a 10-story tower that towers over Hayward Field. A bronze statue of Steve stands in the new Market Alley of the 5th Street Public Market. Pre’s Trail, one of America’s top cross-country courses, is named in his honor, as is the Prefontaine Classic, an elite running event held in Eugene each June. Athletes honor the man who inspired America’s early “running boom” by shaving wild mustaches before competitions or leaving racing shirts and shoes at the memorial that marks the spot near his home where he contributed at the age of 24 died in a car accident.
Whether you’re in town for the World Athletics Championships or just passing through, here’s a guide to the markers, memorials and murals honoring one of Oregon’s most beloved sons.
After winning a 5,000 meter race at Hayward Field on May 29, 1975, Prefontaine attended a party at a friend’s house, dropped a friend off, and then just after midnight rolled his gold-colored MG convertible while cornering the Skyline Boulevard curved. He died at the scene.
A small memorial at the site of this crash near Birch Lane at approximately 2425 Skyline Blvd. has become a destination for runners hoping to pay their respects. An engraved stone plaque surrounded by memorabilia including racing jerseys, T-shirts and running shoes features an image of Pre with the inscription:
“To your principles and beliefs…
For your love, warmth and friendship,
For your family and friends…
you are missed by so many
And you will never be forgotten.”
Whether you’re an elite long-distance runner competing here or a reformed couch potato working on your first 5k, no visit to Eugene would be complete without circling this immaculately maintained cross-country course, which… meandering past ponds and streams, Autzen Stadium and the rushing Willamette River just north of campus in Alton Baker Park.
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Lined with wood chips and bark dust, the 4.4-mile loop was inspired by Prefontaine, who proposed the idea of building a trail with an alternative surface to tarmac in the park after the competition in Europe.
The trail, completed months after his death, is used by everyone from weekend jogging warriors to high school cross-country athletes and hosts several competitions each year, including part of the Eugene Marathon.
Part of a network of premier running trails stretching from Eugene to neighboring Springfield, Pre’s Trail had three main entry points, although the most convenient is near the disc golf course at the west end of the park.
You don’t have to go far to find a picture of Prefontaine in Eugene. If you are anywhere near Hayward Field, just look up.
That’s because the stadium’s unlikely 10-story tower, built during the track’s 2018 renovation to house offices for the University of Oregon’s athletics program and visible from vantage points across the city, is a massive one Black and white likeness of Pre shows, mid-crotch, on its curved southwest edge.
At the nearby Village Plaza, set up for participants in the IAAF World Championships, a composite image of the runner made of old signage, red running track and pieces of broken waffle irons – a nod to Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s original shoe tread shape – hangs from a Wall.
A bronze statue of Prefontaine designed by local artist Mike Leckie was unveiled in 5th Street Public Market’s Market Alley on July 14 and will remain there during the World Athletics Championships. Stop by 550 Pearl St. through the end of July to check it out.
Those making a pilgrimage to Prefontaine’s hometown of Coos Bay on the Oregon coast will find a trio of photorealistic images that show the runner through the years – at Marshfield High School, the University of Oregon and the 1972 Munich Olympics —which adorn one wall 275 S.Broadway. At the nearby Coos Art Museum, a room dedicated to Prefontaine displays photographs, plaques, cups, trophies, medals and other memorabilia from his family’s collection. While you’re there, you can visit Prefontaine’s gravestone at Sunset Memorial Park on the south end of town, or take part in a local “Tour de Pre” hosted by Prefontaine’s sister, Linda.
In a city that seems to host an elite running race every summer weekend, the Prefontaine Classic — held in the runner’s memory since 1975 — remains a marquee on the calendar for many top American athletes. This year’s version took place over two days at Hayward Field and featured five distance races, including the US 10,000-meter track and field championships for both men and women.
Prefontaine Lookalike Contest
On Saturday, Thinking Tree Spirits hosted the first-ever Prefontaine Lookalike Contest, in which staff, contestants and an intrepid reporter shaved or glued on fake mustaches and sideburns to win three prizes, “Best Finish Line Run,” “Best Stevie Stache,” and “Am most authentic.” DJ music, Big Jenga, curling and other large-format lawn games create a festive atmosphere.
Stop pre t shirts
These jerseys were originally printed in 1972 as a small protest by a group of track and field fans who resented the general fan support – and the ubiquitous “Go Pre” signs – ahead of the 1972 Olympic Trials in Eugene, where Prefontaine was preparing for the Olympics in Munich should qualify.
Prefontaine proved his ambitious running style hadn’t outdone his sense of humor by demanding and donning a “Stop Pre” shirt after winning his 5,000m race. These shirts are still presented to winners at the annual Prefontaine Classic, held each year at Hayward Field, where Prefontaine set so many American endurance records.
– Michael Russel