The annual Prefontaine Classic in Eugene Oregon this weekend will see a number of Olympic medallists do battle with the rest of the world at what is a Mecca for American athletes and fans. The event has also grown in stature with the international athletics community over the last 40 years to become one of the best Diamond League meetings on the calendar.
The meeting is named in honour of revered local athlete and US distance legend Steve Prefontaine – an Oregon University alum – who grew up in Coos Bay, just 2 hours south-west of Eugene. Initially named after his almost equally beloved coach, Bill Bowerman, the meeting changed to The Prefontaine Classic after the tragic death of Prefontaine in a car accident at just 24 in 1975.
There were a number of international class performances at the meeting in the early years, yet it was always a poor cousin to the top European meetings in the northern summer and failed to attract the top fields. That began to change early this century as more and more elite athletes, American and international, began to make the annual pilgrimage to the Pacific North-West.
Cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the Pre-Classic – the first big event after the spectacular Tokyo Games – looks very promising.
The Bowerman Mile is perhaps the most captivating of the weekend’s races. We will see the clash of world champ Tim Cheruiyot and reigning Olympic champ Jakob Ingebrigtsen. The talented young Norwegian continues to amaze and reminds many of ’90s star Kenyan Daniel Komen, with his range of ability and his fearless approach to elite competition. Also in the mile are Aussies Stewart McSweyn, Matt Ramsden and Ollie Hoare, looking to build on their successes this season. Stew in particular will be amongst the action. Local star Matt Centrowitz looks to atone for a disappointing Olympic title defence.
The 100m is a classic. Andre de Grasse will take on the year’s best performer, Trayvon Brommel. Brommel will be keen to conquer the charismatic Canadian, with 39-year-old Justin Gatlin here as well. Gatlin, a gun runner in his day, is a little below his best, but the controversial former champ is still capable of something special – despite his senior citizen status among sprinters. Norman and Simbine will be in the mix and the talented Kerley will show that he’s no stooge.The 200m is great too. We will see Olympic medallists Bednarek and Lyle do battle and Lyle may have a chip on his shoulder about Tokyo, coming in third behind de Grasse and Bednarek, and will be hungry for the win.
Emmanuel Korir, the Olympic champion, faces a tough field in the 800m. Fellow countryman Rotich will be there, as will the British duo of Dustin and Giles and also US star Clayton Murphy. Murphy was disappointing in Tokyo and will need to up his game dramatically if he is to challenge the Kenyans.
In the rarely run 2 mile event, we will see Olympic medallists Cheptegei, Kiplimo, Barega and Chelimo in what will be a compelling contest. Daniel Komen’s world record looks safe, though if the pace is on, it could be a very fast time. It was here in 2007 that Craig Mottram ran an Australian national record (8.03.50 – possibly his best ever performance) to win . Buster is still the third fastest man ever, though the calibre of runners on show here are capable of giving the Aussie great’s meet record a shake.
The triple jump and the shot are the field events. The Olympic champions Pichardo and local man Crouser are in career-best form.
Fans are blessed to have women’s events that are just as deep as the men’s. Athing Mu‘s run in the 800m in Toyko was a thing of beauty. There is no limit to this graceful young athlete. She is sure to challenge the world record within the next few years. Here we will see her go against her British rivals Hodgkinson and Reekie. Mu should dominate.The 5000m will feature superstar Sifan Hassan up against Ethiopian rivals Worku and Mamo. Hassan’s sheer speed will be the difference. Look for her to run very fast. Ethiopian Gidey and Kenyan Obiri will run the 2 mile and it will be interesting to see how they go as they step down in distance.
Jamaicans Thompson-Herah and Fraser-Pryce will take on Sha’Carri Richardson in the 100m. Richardson was shattered by being banned from the Tokyo 100m and will obviously be hungry to win in front of her home crowd. Richardson backs up in the 200m and she will face legend Allyson Felix, who will possibly retire after this meeting. Felix is below her best but will be keen to go out a winner here.
A packed 1500m will see our women Jess Hull and Linden Hall go up against Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon and silver medallist Laura Muir. Tactics will be interesting, and the tough-as-teak Scot will throw everything at the graceful Kenyan star. Our girls will do well to hang on to the pace and hopefully one of either Hull or Hall can lower the national record. The gutsy Olympic silver medallist Courtney Frerichs will run her heart out , but Olympic champ Peruth Chemutai should prevail in the steeple.
No McLaughlin in the 400m hurdles, but Dalilah Muhammad the Olympic silver medallist is here. She should dominate. Levchenko (UKR) should win the high jump and Olympic champ Nageotte will dominate the pole vault.
Oregon has for many years been attractive for athletics aficionados – particularly distance runners – due to Oregon’s status as an elite NCAA school, and of course, the development of the Nike corporation (headquarters in Beaverton) by coach Bowerman and Phil Knight. The advent of the Athletics West club attracted many elite athletes to the area in the ’80s (Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit, Mary Decker, Pat Porter et al) and that tradition has carried on for many years. There was the now-defunct Nike Oregon Project, where Salazar became a sought-after (if somewhat controversial) distance running guru. He and other coaches and support staff continued to have success with American and international stars of distance running (though with many alarming reports of over-intense and allegedly abusive treatment of young runners). However, many top athletes still choose Oregon as their primary training base. Perhaps the most celebrated runner who made Oregon his temporary home was the former Salazar disciple, Sir Mo Farah.
The sport has a great following in the region and this meeting will be a highlight of the international athletics calendar.