Steve Prefontaine is one of the most revered athletes in Eugene.
On Thursday night, his 40-year-old U.S. Olympic Trials meet record in the 5,000 meters fell. It fell to a man who is continuing to grow his own legend from underneath Pre’s shadow: Galen Rupp.
His time of 13:22.67 just eclipsed Pre’s 1972 meet record of 13:22.8.
The win in the 5K was Rupp’s second of the week. He also won the 10,000 meters on June 22.
His second win came in dramatic fashion. Rupp was passed with about 100 meters to go by Bernard Lagat, a man whom Rupp had previously never defeated. Rupp then went back out in front of Lagat and tore down the final straightaway for the victory as the crowd roared its approval.
“I passed him and then he came back again. He did not surprise me. He’s been running great,” said Lagat. “That did not surprise me at all.”
To Rupp, finishing ahead of Lagat wasn’t the most important thing, although his grin as he crossed the finish line proved it was certainly special.
“I knew that obviously he’d be coming the last 100. He’s done that time and time again to me. I was just telling myself, just stay in it, make sure you get on the team first and foremost, and just keep your form. That was the big thing, just drive to the finish,” Rupp said.
Once he hit the finish line, his night was nowhere near being finished. The Central Catholic High School and University of Oregon graduate treated his home crowd to an extended victory lap. As Rupp made his way across the track at Hayward Field, he stopped and signed just about everything that was reached over the rail toward him and posed for pictures with dozens of fans. He did all of this with a smile on his face. He would have continued signing and posing much longer, if it weren’t for a meet official whisking him away so he would be available to the media.
Through the entire post-race press conference that smile still never left his face, the 26-year-old’s youthful exuberance evident through gleaming eyes while he answered questions for 20 minutes.
Despite breaking the record of an icon and doing something Pre himself never did – win both the 5K and 10K at the Olympic Trials – Rupp remained humble.
“To hear that I got the record, that’s unreal. Any time you’re mentioned in the same breath as Steve Prefontaine, it’s a huge compliment. I’m thrilled to be able to do that but more thrilled to just to be able to get on the team and have a good race here at the trials,” Rupp said.
Because it was “here,” on the same track where Prefontaine starred before Rupp won three high school state titles and became one of the nation’s elite collegiate runners, people will now always link Rupp’s name to that of another Duck legend.