31 May, 2018

Heaven Has Home for Hayward Field Miles

  • Jakob Ingebrigtsen - 2018 Prefontaine Classic - Photo by Phil Johnson

On a fabulous Saturday full of world-class action, the Prefontaine Classic held its last mile race named for Bill Bowerman at the site named for his coach, Bill Hayward.

(The 45th Pre Classic, a member of the IAAF Diamond League of elite international track & field meets, will be held in late June 2019.)

 
Eugene, Oregon – If there is a sub-4 heaven, Hayward Field must have a special home.

On a fabulous Saturday full of world-class action, the Prefontaine Classic held its last mile race named for Bill Bowerman at the site named for his coach, Bill Hayward.

There will be more Pre Classics, and more great miles, but Hayward Field – built in 1919 – is set to be completely rebuilt, so the memories from this Pre Classic were special to every fan, volunteer, official and athlete from all five continents.

Like clockwork, Hayward Field provided magic Saturday, first in the International Mile that gave the Pre Classic its 400th sub-4 performance and the stadium it’s 500th under that barrier. Then the world’s best 1500-meter women saw a new member of an even more-exclusive sub-4 club, Shelby Houlihan.

A major rocker came when hometown hero Matthew Centrowitz raced for the first time on his old track since winning Olympic gold in Rio – the first by an American since 1908. His dad, Matt, trained as a collegian with Pre and watched history on the same track where he set an American record in the 5k.
 
Every race or event is special at Hayward Field. The men’s mile race is a literal icon, much like Hayward Field. Here is a special fun stroll through some of the most memorable mile races run at Hayward Field.
 
1960 – April 23 – Hayward Field’s First Sub-4
Dyrol Burleson – from nearby Cottage Grove, Oregon – was already reigning U.S. 1500 champ and finally ready to race for Oregon as a sophomore (freshmen weren’t eligible back then).  In a dual meet against Stanford, he roared home alone with three sub-60 laps to become the second U.S. sub-4 runner in 3:58.6, an American record.
 
1961 – May 24 – Another American Record For Burleson
After making the Rome Olympic final, Burleson prepped to defend his NCAA title with an attempt to regain his American record, which he had lost to Jim Beatty (3:58.0) a year earlier.  He was successful in a special all-comers meet with a 3:57.6, winning by over 10 seconds.  Also falling that day was the U.S. all-comers best held by Olympic gold medalist Herb Elliott (3:57.8).  Burleson ended the year as the first American to top the Track & Field News world rankings in the 1500/mile.
 
1962 – June 16 – Hayward Field’s First NCAA Championships
Bill Bowerman’s Men of Oregon had already carved out a niche in middle distance racing – winning or finishing 2nd (or both) in the NCAA 1500/mile every year since the school’s first title by Bill Dellinger in 1954.  But this was the first time Hayward Field would host the NCAA meet, and the hometown Ducks stormed to their first national title as Burleson won his final race for Oregon in a third-straight NCAA meet record of 3:59.8, the third sub-4 of his (and Hayward Field’s) career.
 
1964 – May 13 – A Third Hayward Field Standard For Burleson
In a special Olympic fund-raising meet the man nicknamed Burly bettered his own Hayward Field record with a 3:57.5 that was his fourth solo sub-4 at his home track.
 
1966 – June 2 – Burleson Has Sub-4 Company at Hayward
With four sub-4 times at Hayward Field, Burleson was the stadium’s only until the Oregon Twilight Meet was born on this day.  Burleson won in a Hayward Field record 3:57.3 and was joined by Hayward Field’s second and third sub-4 runners, both from Oregon – freshman Roscoe Divine and Wade Bell.
 
1968 – August 23 – A Pre-Olympic Special
World record holder Jim Ryun – the last American to hold the mile WR – ran his first mile at Hayward Field as he and Marty Liquori finished in the same order they would three weeks later at the Olympic Trials in South Lake Tahoe.  Ryun won, 3:59.0 to 3:59.3 with a 55.1 last lap that would end up as his only sub-4 race at Hayward Field ever.
 
1970 – June 5 – Pre’s First Sub-4
Hayward Field - built in 1919 as a combination football/track stadium - was now a track-only facility with its first all-weather track.  Roscoe Divine was now a post-collegian and he lowered the track record at the Oregon Twilight Meet by a second with a world-leading 3:56.3 as a record five men ran sub-4 for the first time at Hayward Field.  The 2nd-place finisher at 3:57.4 was an Oregon freshman named Steve Prefontaine from Coos Bay, Oregon.  Two weeks later Pre was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
 
1971 – June 26 – Hayward Field’s First AAU Championships
Marty Liquori won his last outdoor national championships in this event in 3:56.5, the 3rd-fastest ever at Hayward Field with a 54.5 last lap.  Liquori ended the season undefeated as the world’s top miler for the second time in three years before beginning a move up to the 5k.
 
1973 – April 27 – Pre’s Only Hayward Field Mile Record
Pre lowered the Hayward Field record to 3:55.0, the 1.3-second lowering of the track record being the largest yet.  He won the Oregon Twilight Meet by over three seconds.
 
1973 – June 20 – Hayward Field Restoration Meet
In a meet designed by Bill Bowerman to raise funds to upgrade Hayward Field, Munich Olympic 800 gold medalist Dave Wottle from Bowling Green came off an NCAA mile win to outkick 3-mile champ Prefontaine, as Wottle’s Hayward Field-record 3:53.3 led a record 7 under the 4-minute barrier.  Pre ran 3:54.6, his fastest mile ever in the meet that would later be renamed for him after his 1975 death.
 
1974 – September 3 – Pre Breaks 4 On A Black Tuesday
Late in the summer of European racing, Pre came home to Eugene for some intense training and he aimed to finish it with a fast mile before returning.  This was an unpublicized race with some Oregon TC teammates set on a “Black Tuesday” – when rye grass farmers in the Willamette Valley are allowed to burn their fields.  However, nature did not cooperate as heat and lack of favorable winds combined for thick smoke to dominate the atmosphere.  Still, Pre ran his important tuneup, clocking 3:58.3.  Afterwards, Pre was coughing up blood and used a megaphone to thank the supporters who showed up.
 
1977 – June 14 – The Pre Classic’s First Sub-4
Three days after his first U.S. title, Steve Scott – then a junior at UC Irvine – outkicked 5k champ Marty Liquori, 3:57.9 to 3:58.0 as they became the first two of four sub-4 runners in a Pre Classic mile.
 
1982 – June 5 – 11 Break 4 At Pre Classic
Sydney Maree (3:54.10) and Ray Flynn (3:54.21) became Hayward Field’s first sub-3:55 milers in almost a decade, leading a record 11 runners under the sub-4 barrier.
 
1982 – September 25 – Covett No-Show Mile
In what should have been the first mile showdown with world record setters Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, a stunning Hayward Field record 3:53.18 came from locally trained Tom Byers in a late-season race that saw 6 run under 3:56 in the absence of the two British stars.
 
1994 – June 4 – 12 Break 4 At Pre Classic
Bob Kennedy stepped down from his 5k specialty for some speed work and won his second-straight Pre Classic Mile, a 3:56.71 that would remain his lifetime best.  Behind him the sub-4 meet record number grew to 12.  Two years later, Kennedy would become the first American to run sub-13 in the 5k.
 
1995 – June 4 – Holman Runs Sub-3:53, Leads 13 Under 4
Steve Holman broke the 12-year-old Pre Classic Mile meet record set by Tom Byers with a 3:52.89 as the record of sub-4 runners in one race grew to 13.
 
2000 – June 24 – The First Bowerman Mile
After the passing of Bill Bowerman on December 24, 1999, the Pre Classic received permission from the family to rename its mile the Bowerman Mile.  William Chirchir enjoyed his first sub-4 and the second-fastest ever at Hayward Field in 3:51.84.
 
2001 – May 27 – Hayward Field’s Loudest Roar?
Hicham El Guerrouj crushed a world-class Bowerman Mile field by almost 2 seconds in becoming the first-ever to run sub-3:50 outdoors in the U.S. (3:49.92), but it was 18-year-old Alan Webb who drew even more attention in 5th place.  Webb finished in 3:53.43 to shatter the national High School Record set by legendary Jim Ryun 36 years earlier.  Many remember Webb’s homestretch run as among the loudest roars ever heard at Hayward Field.  In 2014, a panel of experts rated this race the Pre Classic meet’s most memorable moment of its first 40 years.
 
2007 – June 10 – Hayward Field Sees 3:48 For First Time
Daniel K. Komen sizzled a 55.8 last 440 in the Bowerman Mile to chop 1.64 seconds off the Pre Classic meet record and become the outright fastest-ever miler on U.S. soil (3:48.28). 
 
2009 – June 7 – Two Under 3:49
Asbel Kiprop won the first of his record four Bowerman Miles and the Pre Classic saw its first race with two running sub-3:50 – both actually under 3:49 with Kiprop’s 3:48.50 ahead of Haron Keitany (3:48.78).  For the second time, 13 broke 4 minutes.
 
2012 – June 2 – Sub-4 Bonanza
The Bowerman Mile saw its best total of sub-4 milers yet at 16, a day after the Pre Classic’s International Mile had its most ever at 11 for a two-day total of 27.
 
2014 – May 31 – Souleiman Surprises With 3:47
The Pre Classic displayed the most dominant day of mile racing seen in the U.S. – topped by a surprising 3:47.32 by Ayanleh Souleiman – as a record 26 bettered 4 minutes on the same day, topped by Souleiman’s best on U.S. soil.  The International Mile saw its most with 12 and the Bowerman Mile followed with 14 – including a record 6 going sub-3:50, including a second joining Souleiman in 3:47 territory.
 
2017 – May 27 – Youngest Sub-4 Miler Ever
Jakob Ingebrigsten found plenty of attention in the International Mile, becoming the youngest sub-4 miler ever at just 16 years old.  The Bowerman Mile followed with its closest finish ever of just 0.04 seconds.
 
2018 – May 26 – Two New Milestones & Another Ingebrigsten Record
The International Mile kicked off the Pre Classic’s doubleheader of miling, providing the meet’s 400th sub-4 (winner Luke Mathews) and stadium’s 500th (6th-placer Riley Masters) as 12 broke 4 minutes.  American record holder Alan Webb was on hand to present both with plaques honoring the milestones.  Timothy Cheruiyot raced away to win the Bowerman Mile to give the meet and stadium its 24th sub-3:50 performance at 3:49.87.  In 4th, Jakob Ingebrigtsen ran a 4-second PR 3:52.28 to become the fastest-ever 17-year-old.
 
Thanks to reports by Track & Field News and the Eugene Register-Guard and the biography Pre! by Tom Jordan, as well as statistical work by Scott Davis, Garry Hill, Peter Larsson, Kevin Saylors and Howard Willman.

The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track & field meet in America and is part of the elite IAAF Diamond League of meets held worldwide annually.  The Pre Classic’s results score has rated No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in each of the last seven years by All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the Diamond League.

Steve Prefontaine is a legend in the sport of track & field and is the most inspirational distance runner in American history.  He set a national high school 2-mile record (8:41.5) while at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, that is the fastest ever in a National Federation-sanctioned race.  While competing for the University of Oregon, he won national cross country championships (3) and outdoor track 3-Mile/5000-meter championships (4), and never lost a collegiate track race at any distance.  As a collegiate junior, he made the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and nearly won an Olympic medal, finishing 4th in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at age 21.  After finishing college in 1973 and preparing for a return to the Olympics in 1976, he continued to improve, setting 18 American records.  His life ended tragically on May 30, 1975, the result of an auto accident, at age 24.  The Pre Classic began that year and has been held every year since.