Steve Prefontaine was fire on the track, a charismatic man who made track and field the happening sport in Eugene in the 1970s. As another Prefontaine Classic convenes at Hayward Field on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 20-21, it’s worth noting the humanity of the man — especially in his interactions with children — who died 46 years ago in a single car accident in this city. Tom Jordan, whose biography of Prefontaine (Pre!) first came out in 1977, inserted a story from Jane Fleener. She spoke of a benefit dinner for a 14-year-old boy who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. The kids flocked to Prefontaine, and the runner volunteered to stay and serve spaghetti dinners. “Serve he did — for the rest of the day!” Fleener recounted. Anita Johnson, co-owner of Eugene Weekly, recalls once sitting in a room with Prefontaine while he was interviewed by a group of kids for a class project. The kids grilled him on what he ate for breakfast and other topics. One child later asked, “Pre, how do you spell oatmeal?” He slowly spelled it out for the child. Steve Prefontaine would have been 70 years old this year. Beyond the fire on the track, it’s the humanity that endures.
The Prefontaine Classic starts 8:50 pm Friday, Aug. 20, and continues 12:20 pm Saturday, Aug. 21 at Hayward Field with the men’s triple jump and the women’s pole vault. It ends with the 2:50 pm Bowerman Mile. Ticket information is at GoDucks.com.