A pair of flip-flops with the words TOM 3RD AT STATE inscribed in one sole. Racing numbers 35, 12 and 694. "Oregon Duck" lip balm. A message scrawled by a man from Malaysia: "We are what we believe."
Steve Prefontaine believed that "to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." The tributes left at the Pre's Rock monument in the southeast hills of Eugene, Ore., where the 24-year-old Prefontaine died in a one-car accident on May 30, 1975, are proof that people still believe in "Pre," American distance running's first, last and only rock star. Since its dedication in 1997, the Rock has been to runners what Central Park's Strawberry Fields is to Lennon acolytes: a place to gather and remember a hero who died too young. The Rock is a must-stop for runners passing through Eugene (so many visit that a few years ago the city built parking spaces nearby), and on a typical weekend scores of people from all over the world scale curvy Skyline Boulevard to the memorial. On the 30th anniversary of Pre's death next week an even larger throng is expected.
Prefontaine is beloved because he talked a good game ("Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it") and ran a better one (when he died he held every U.S. record between 2,000 and 10,000 meters). "He was a little bit cocky, but he could back it up," says Galen Rupp, 19, Track & Field News's 2004 boys athlete of the year and a freshman runner at Oregon, Pre's alma mater. "When anybody ever talked about running, they talked about him."
On June 4 a field of elite track and field athletes will come to Eugene to honor Pre and compete at the 31st annual Prefontaine Classic at Oregon's Hayward Field. The same spirit was in the air last weekend, when the Oregon high school Class 4A championships were held at Hayward. Afterward many of the competitors trekked up to the Rock; when they were gone, several yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets and an unopened chocolate energy drink had been left on the memorial. "He ran with a lot of spirit, and he had goals," says Leah Worthen, 18, a Marshfield High senior who won her second straight state 400-meter title. "And he had that confidence and so much ambition. That's something that all athletes have to have." --Mark Baker