Posted on May 29, 2022
By Curtis Anderson, Research Consultant
Seven years ago, when the audacious idea of bringing the World Athletics Championships to Eugene was formally adopted, local stakeholders promised it would be far more than just another track meet. They said it would be “transformational,” both for the sport, and the community at large. And now, with the global showcase just a few weeks away, those assurances have begun to take shape as Oregon prepares to welcome the world’s greatest track and field athletes to Hayward Field for 10 days of exhilarating competition.
It will mark the first time that this prestigious event has been held in the U.S., and by hosting an estimated 2,000 athletes representing more than 200 nations, it will be the second-largest sporting event in the world this year.
Truly, an unprecedented moment in time.
From the beginning, the challenge for the city of Eugene, Lane County, and really, all Oregonians, became a question of how to best connect with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In short, what exactly does transformational mean and what does it look like?
The answers have slowly begun to emerge over the past few years with the unveiling of numerous ambitious projects, but few struck a chord quite like the Eugene Symphony’s idea to commission an original piece of music by an Oregon composer to celebrate the life and legacy of one of America’s most iconic distance runners—Steve Prefontaine.
To begin with, he is one of our own.
Born and raised in the hardscrabble town of Coos Bay, he achieved his greatest fame as a runner at the University of Oregon, setting numerous collegiate and American records along the way, making UO track meets must-see events, and becoming one of the first to stand up against the hypocrisy of amateur athletics.
His gut-wrenching fourth-place finish in the 5,000 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics when he was only 21 years old—a race that he elevated by taking the lead with two laps to go and forcing it to the finish line in an astonishing four-minute final mile—showed the world what he was made of.
Yet Pre also had a profound effect off the track. Besides being a tireless champion for athletes’ rights, he was a frequent volunteer at a local junior high school, he founded a running club for the inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and he was a vocal advocate for healthy air quality as he fought to eliminate the practice of field burning.
With his front-running style, indomitable spirit and rebellious nature, Pre captured the imagination of thousands of young runners across the globe.