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A Favorite Memory of Hayward Field
By Steve Ritchie

Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon - 2008 Olympic Trials (Nick Symmonds in the lead)

EUGENE - The 1972 Olympic Trials stand out more than any other meet I can recall at Hayward. This was the first Trials to be held in Eugene and it was huge. In 1972 the top track and field athletes were household names in America and track was considered a major sport, at least in an Olympic year. The biggest star was unquestionably Steve Prefontaine. Pre was one of the favorites to win the Olympic gold medal in the 5000 meters, despite being only three years out of Marshfield H.S. The 5000 final was scheduled to be the last event on the last day of the 10-day trials and there must have been close to 20,000 people packed in the Hayward stands, to see Pre run. What a way to end the Trials - you couldn't have scripted it any better.

George Young was his main competition. Young was an Olympian in the steeplechase and a respected, veteran distance runner. He had reportedly been training for weeks at altitude somewhere in the southwest, priming his body to take on Pre. Young went out hard and right from the start it was a two-man race, with Pre right behind him. It seemed insanely fast, American record pace, and the battle was utterly riveting. Both men were clearly going to make the team; they didn't need to push the pace that hard, but neither wanted to lose. Young was giving Pre everything he could handle. It stayed that way for 9 or 10 laps, then Pre moved to the lead. Young stayed with him for maybe a lap, then he died. The last lap Pre was by himself. I remember the time as being 13:18 - new national record. It was unbelievably exciting. We were all sure Pre was going to get the gold in Munich - he seemed unbeatable. It didn't quite work out that way, but he gave it a hell of a go.


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