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Steve Prefontaine wearing number 34 competing in the 5000m event of the US-USSR-Commonwealth international track and field meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, July 19, 1969
Steve Prefontaine, wearing an AAU US Team singlet with bib number 34, competing in the 5000m event of the US-USSR-Commonwealth international track and field meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, July 19, 1969. These two photos were taken by Jeff Kroot, now an architect and councilman in San Anselmo, California. Used with his permission, all rights reserved.
To see a larger image, right click on the image and select the size you want.
This was Pre's first-ever international track meet. He placed 5th in the race with 14:40.0.
Pre had just graduated from High school and went to the AAU championships on June 9th in Miami, Florida, where he placed 4th in the 3-mile competing for Marshfield High School (he wore his high school singlet) in a talented field of college and post-college distance runners. His placement earned him a slot on the alternates list for the AAU's US Team that would compete in international meets the summer of 1969. He was picked up from the list when Tracy Smith decided not to attend this meet. Pre would not enroll in the University of Oregon until after the summer, so he competed on the US Team as being from Coos Bay, Oregon.
Pre had just returned home from his second workout of the morning in Coos Bay when he answered the phone to be told of the reports that Tracey Smith would likely not attend this meet, opening the way for Pre to compete.
"I haven't (pant, pant) heard anything (pant, pant) about it," he gasped. "All I know is (pant, pant) that I've got (pant, pant) an airline ticket for Hawaii (pant, pant)."
Pre left that morning for Hawaii for several days of training with the AAU US Team, climaxed by the Hawaii Invitational open meet on July 12th. The team would then depart for LA to train for this international meet.
This meet in LA was the first of four international events he would compete in that summer--the other three were in Europe. He ran the 5000m event in all four meets, the closest metric equivalent to the standard US 3-mile event. He placed 5th, 3rd, 2nd, and 4th in the four summer meets.
In this US Team race and the next in Stuttgart, Germany, the field included the star distance runner Gerry Lindgren from Washington State University--he is in the lead in the right photo above. Lindgren placed 3rd in this race with 14:02.1, almost 38 seconds ahead of Pre. This time gap between the two would rapidly close as time went on in the fall.
Pre's first year with Oregon would be Gerry's last at WSU. Gerry was a talented runer who had achieved star status for his Pre-like mastery of distance running through his college years. That their first and last college years overlapped was fitting as the torch for American collegiate distance running throne was passed from one to the other.
The LA meet was a two-day event with a total attendance for the two days of only 30,340. The first day was a dual competition between the US and the Commonwealth. Under agreements for the meet, the Russians were not involved in a dual meet with the Commonwealth. The US-Commonwealth dual competition resulted in the US men winning 137-08 and the US women 81-54.
For this race, Pre set the pace through the first quarter, was second behind Lindgren at Pre's 4:34 mile point (see the above right photo), then dropped to fourth at 6.5 laps as the strong Soviets, Rashid Sharafutdinov and Ivan Shopsha, took the lead from Lindgren. At two miles, Pre was five seconds back and strling with pains in his side. Sharafutdinov won the race and Shopsa placed second ahead of Lindgren. Pre was fifth in 9.5 laps and finished in fifth. He wobbled noticeably on the last curve and staggered at the finish (see photo at upper left).
"I felt OK at first," said Pre, "but got a stitch after halfway and the heat got to me. It was probably the hard running I did yesterday when I thought I wasn't going to be in the race that made it so hard. You don't get ready for this sort of thing in 12 hours."
Pre came to LA expecting to run his first international competition, but was told two days before the 5000m race that Tracy Smith, who Pre replaced as an alternate when Smith decided not to run, had returned from France and reclaimed his place in the 5000m. Then the evening before the race Tracy once more withdrew with an intestinal problem, probably from drinking tap water in France.
"This is the last time I'm ever going to be an alternate," vowed the disappointed Prefontaine after learning of Smith's arrival to bump him off the meet. And so it was.
1. Rashid Sharafutdinov (USSR) 13:58.8
2. Ivan Shopsa (USSR) 14:00.0
3. Gerry Lindgren (WSU) 14:02.1
4. Kerry O'Brien (Australia) 14:24.9
5. Pre (Coos Bay, Oregon) 14:40.0
6. Kerry Pearce (Australia) 14:58.0
The attendance for this two-day event paled in comparison to earlier such meets that began in 1962 at Stanford. Then more than 150,000 fans looked on watching the world's best. For this meet th
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