This image is from Steve Bence's website: europa.com/~bence/pre/pd.htm The photo was taken by Pre's friend since grade school, Jim Seyler (spelled wrong at the link site).
Steve Prefontine at his Eugene home on May 29, 1975, the day of his last race, with runners Matt Centrowitz, Steve Bence, and Mark Feig, with the race trophy won from the Great Race fraternity fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy, Nov 22-23, 1974, Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Oregon. A news account details that the four Oregon runners who ran the final four mile distance on game-day were Pre, Matt Centrowiitz, Steve Bence and Tom Lux. Pre had the final anchor leg, winning by three seconds ahead of OSU.
Steve Bence told the story below, also about the picture and why it was taken. The story was sent to Doug Binder who wrote a story on the race that was featured in the online web site Track Focus at this link: trackfocus.com/oregon/steve-prefontaine-and-the-civil-war...
The Great Race was an annual Marathon relay race fraternity fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy. It alternated Corvallis-to-Eugene in the odd years and Eugene-to-Corvallis in the even years. The distance was about 48 miles. In 1974, about 90 Oregon and Oregon State students from the two schools competed--each student running one mile. All but the last four miles of the race were run the Friday before the Saturday football game in Corvallis. The race was timed to finish during half-time of the game.
The race was timed to finish in the football stadium (Parker Stadium) [ed. actually Reser Stadium in Corvallis in 1974 and even years, Autzen stadium in Eugene in odd years; Parker reference may be to Parker Plaza at Oregon State], during halftime of the Civil War [the historic annual football game between Oregon and Oregon State, the oldest such rivalry on the west coast]. In order to accomplish this all but the last four miles were run on Friday and the race resumed during the second quarter on game day.
In the 1974 race 90
In 1974, I was asked to run on the Oregon team by one of my friends in a fraternity. I must have agreed because the race [Nov 22-23, 1974] included a few hours on a bus, with sorority girls and beer. It wasn’t a serious race. It was a fun Friday event. There weren’t many rules and we could decide as we went who would run, in which order, and how far.
People started to party as they completed their run. However, I turned competitive as the Oregon State team pulled ahead and their bus disappeared into the distance. I worked out a plan where several of us would rotate running about a quarter mile at a time and we would dramatically increase our pace. It worked. The Oregon State bus came back into view and we gradually reeled them in. By the end of Friday we were 67 seconds behind.
That evening [Nov 22, 1974] I followed up on the rest of the plan, which was to convince three of my Oregon track teammates to run the last four miles on Saturday [Nov 23, 1974] with me. I was a 4:02 miler. It was easy to talk my roommate Mark Feig and future Olympian Matt Centrowitz into running. They were both sub-four milers.
I called Pre, a 3:54 miler, to be our anchor leg. He said no. We had a Saturday morning track workout and he didn’t want to run again in the afternoon. I explained that it was a fundraiser, it would finish in the Oregon State football stadium at halftime, he would be our anchor, and I guaranteed that he would be on the winning team.
The race format was confusing to him. I was about to give up when he asked how many teams there were. Just two: Oregon and Oregon State. He then asked who was ahead by 67 seconds. I told him, “Oregon State.”
That was enough for Pre. He agreed to run. There was no way that Oregon State was going to win if he had the opportunity. Oregon football was in the midst of a bad season and was going into the Civil War a heavy underdog with a 2-8 record. Pre loved the thought of Oregon winning a running event in Corvallis [finish was in Reser Stadium] , in full view of Beavers fans, and in view of the loser Oregon football team.
Once again, I promised Pre that by the time he received the baton that he’d be in the lead. Mark, Matt, and I would make up the 67 seconds plus more since were running against a bunch of frat guys.
After our Saturday morning track workout the four of us got together and drove to starting point in Corvallis. To my surprise, the four runners from Oregon State were from their track team as well. Their anchor was freshman Rich Kimball, who ran about 4:02 in high school.
Pre asked me about my guarantee that he’d have a lead at the handoff. I looked to Mark and Matt, who both offered thumb’s-up. But making up more than 20 seconds per mile proved to be too much.
I watched for Pre’s reaction as he received the baton about 15 seconds behind Rich Kimball. I was prepared for him to refuse to run. Instead, Pre grabbed the baton, glanced my way, flipped me off, and then looked ahead to Kimball. I could tell in his eyes that he was going to run great but I didn’t know if the 15 second gap would be too much, especially after the morning track workout.
Mark, Matt, and I hopped in the car and sped off to the stadium to watch the finish. We had only a few minutes to park the car, run in, and then talk our way onto the field.
The stadium announcer briefly explained the Great Race and directed attention to the end zone where any moment the runners would enter the stadium. No one expected Prefontaine. Yet suddenly, there was Pre bursting through the tunnel about a stride ahead of Rich Kimball.
They both sprinted down the middle of the football field as the teams were preparing to start the second half. There was a murmur in the crowd and the announcement came that Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine was winning the Great Race. He won the approximately 40-mile race by two seconds.
Pre was ecstatic. He was presented with the trophy, which was supposed to go to the fraternity of the winning team.
On the drive back to Eugene, we told the stories of our run. Pre loved beating the Beavers in Corvallis, and he wanted his competitiveness to rub off on the football team. The Beavers beat the Ducks that day 36-16. He probably thought that they were lazy prima donnas, unlike us track guys.
When we got back to Eugene I tried to get the trophy back from him to give to the fraternity. Pre said that it was going on his mantle for a little while and that he’d deliver the trophy later.
A month later, during the Christmas holiday, I went to Pre’s house and noticed the trophy still on his mantle. I told him that I needed to be returned. He said, “Not yet.”
The next spring, on May 29, 1975 to be specific, we had a track meet on a Thursday evening. Pre had trouble relaxing for so many hours before the race so he insisted that Mark, Matt, and I go to his house to play cards. As we prepared to leave, Pre realized that the four of us from the Great Race were together. He grabbed his camera, ran next door to ask his neighbor to take a picture, the four of us stood in his front yard with the trophy. Finally, Pre was then ready to let go of it.
We went to the track meet.
Hours later Pre died.
Months after Pre’s death, someone developed the film in his camera and delivered a copy of the picture, which I forgot existed. It was a wonderful surprise.
I’m not sure what happened to the trophy but I know it meant something to him. Pre was a multiple NCAA champion, American record holder, and an Olympian. Yet winning that race on that day in the manner that he did was a great example of Pre’s character and competitiveness.
Steve Bence remembered the day the photo was taken in an interview at
I’ll share my favorite memory of Steve. It happened during the last 24 hours of his life.
Pre ran his final race on Thursday evening May 29, 1975. Pre put together the meet so a delegation from Finland could compete in Oregon. Originally Pre had set up the meet to run against Lasse Viren on Pre’s home ground. But Lasse canceled and Pre set up a 5000 meter race against Frank Shorter instead. Pre’s goal was to break the American record that evening. Kenny Moore was at the meet for Sports Illustrated to capture the story.
Earlier that Thursday morning I went out for an easy jog to get ready to race. I was running 800 meters that night. Pre saw me and insisted that I, my roommate Mark Feig, and Matt Centrowitz go to his house during the day to relax. Pre was hyper and needed others to keep him distracted and calm. I said that I needed to study for a math final so I took my book with me to study. Mark, Pre, and Matt played a 3-handed card game (probably Spades).
Later in the afternoon Pre dressed for the meet and we started to leave. The plan was to go to Mark’s and my apartment which was across the street from Hayward Field, the rest of us would change into our uniforms, and then jog over to the track. But just before we left Pre said that he wanted to get a picture of the four of us. We were the four anchor people on a Fall relay race from Eugene to Corvallis (which is a story by itself). Pre was the last runner in that city-to-city relay and he won it for the UO by mere seconds. He kept the trophy on his mantel and knew that he had to return it. He coaxed his neighbor to take our picture before we headed off and the neighbor clicked the following picture on Pre’s camera.
We went to Mark’s and my apartment. We changed, jogged to the track, and then the focus was on Pre.
Not only was Kenny Moore trying to cover the story of the Finns in Oregon and Pre trying to break the American 5000 meter record but the Sports Illustrated photographer was trying to capture the story in pictures. Pre came up to me before my race to encourage me.
That Thursday race turned out to be my last race as a University of Oregon runner. Pre said that I wasn’t progressing the way that I should (he blamed Dellinger) and said that on Saturday he would become my new coach. I tried to adjust to that thought.
Pre went to the party for the Finns that evening and the rest of us went to the Oregon track team dinner.
At 6am the next morning I was awoken by a phone call to hear that Pre was dead. Our lives changed.
For most of us on the team and friends of Pre, Pre’s death was our first death experience with a close friend. For me it was very surreal that I spent Thursday with Pre, raced with him on that day, had several pictures taken with him, and he vowed to be my new coach starting on Saturday.
However on that Friday morning, a beautiful clear Oregon day, the day of his death, I took my math test as though nothing happened. I think many people such as me didn’t get the opportunity to grieve properly because of Pre’s fame.
Matt Centrowitz was born in New York City in 1955. He attended Power Memorial Academy, where he won state championships in the 800m, one mile and two mile events and became the first New Yorker to break nine minutes in the two mile run (8:56.00). In 1973 (his senior year), he was ranked as the country's number one high school mile runner. He has the fourth best all-time 1500 m time of 3:43.4 and still holds the state record in the 1500 m and mile events.
He attended the University of Oregon. In 1976, he broke Steve Prefontaine's 1500 m school record, running 3:36.7. He was on the Ducks' 1977 NCAA Cross Country Championship team and graduated from Oregon in 1978.
Centrowitz was a member of the US Olympic Team in 1976 and 1980, competing in the 1500m. He won a gold medal in the 5000m run at the 1979 Pan-American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and followed that with four United States national championships in the 5000m run from 1979–82. in 1982, he set the American record in the 5000m with a time of 13:12.91, which is still sixth-best all-time.
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- Great Race
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- Steve Bence
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