Best Oregon Runner Ever: Pre, Alberto, Rupp....Bill McChesney???


Newton South Coach Steve McChesney visited the Olympic Trials this week at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. Thirty-Two years ago his brother Billy captured the final spot in the 5000 Meters to earn a birth on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. The 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow were boycotted by then President Jimmy Carter, and the American's never attended. We all know the famous Oregon names like Alberto, Pre, Rupp, but how great was Bill McChesney? Watch the video below and read the Orange County Register Story that is also attached. 




The day Bill McChesney took the ’80 Trials for a wild ride


A few years ago Alberto Salazar introduced a skinny kid he was coaching at Portland’s Central Catholic High School to the parents of his late Oregon teammate Bill McChesney.

“He’s got the same stuff Pre and Billy had,” Dr. Bill McChesney this week recalled Salazar, the former American record holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters and the marathon, saying.

The kid was Galen Rupp.

Thursday night, Rupp, the former Oregon NCAA champion and current American record-holder at 10,000, will toe the starting line in front of Hayward Field’s historic East grandstand as one of the favorites in the U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000 final.

Rupp and Bernard Lagat are expected to challenge Steve Prefontaine’s 40-year-old Olympic Trials record of 13 minutes, 22.8 seconds, the last major record held by Prefontaine and the oldest Trials record by eight years.

Replicating the magic the younger McChesney produced in bringing the 1980 Olympic Trials to life on a sun drenched Sunday afternoon will be more difficult.

With a mile remaining in the Trials 5,000, the Oregon junior spat on the track and then took off, leaving the pack behind, pushing himself to his limits and then beyond, taking the Trials and his sport along on an electric ride out from beneath the dark clouds Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games had cast over the Trials and American track and field.

McChesney’s daring, courageous and unexpected move was reminiscent of Prefontaine at his guttiest, sending chills through many at Hayward as they rose to cheer on the longest of long shots.

Only weeks earlier he had been limited to running in a swimming pool because of an Achilles tendon injury that had plagued him through much of college career after a national record-setting run at nearby South Eugene High School. Now he was pulling away from perhaps the greatest American 5,000 field ever assembled. His boldness would come at a price. McChesney, just 21, was passed by two runners and nearly a third before he willed himself through a dramatic final 100 meters, fueled by an inner fire, carried by the deafening roar of a crowd and a sport previously muted by politics.

“The crowd, the stadium, the track world needed something to brighten up its day and Billy did that,” Gonzaga coach Pat Tyson said. “That was Billy, he lit people up.”

Like Prefontaine, McChesney’s star disappeared much too soon. Unlike Prefontaine, McChesney and the 1980 Trials 5,000 winner Matt Centrowitz would also largely fade from his sport’s collective memory.

Shortly before Prefontaine was killed in car accident in May 1975, the holder of all seven American records between 2,000 and 10,000 meters, Track & Field News proclaimed him track’s most popular athlete. Nearly 40 years after his death, Prefontaine remains arguably American track and field’s most transcendent star, the subject of two Hollywood feature films, cited as a source of inspiration by the likes of Bill Cosby, Super Bowl-winning coaches, and Lance Armstrong.

McChesney and Centrowitz exist primarily in the record books. Centrowitz, another former Oregon star, went on to set the American record at 5,000 meters in 1982 and become the first man since the 1940s to win four consecutive U.S. 5,000 titles, a feat since unmatched. McChesney held the Oregon school record at 10,000 meters for 25 years until Rupp broke it in 2007. He still holds the Oregon 5,000 record, ahead of Prefontaine, Rupp, Salazar and Centrowitz, and remains the fastest American collegian ever to run the event (13:14.80).

Unable to compete in the 1980 Olympics due to the boycott, McChesney, like Centrowitz, would also miss the 1984 Games because of injury. McChesney was killed in a car accident in 1992 while racing to a high school cross country meet on the Oregon Coast.

“Much like Steve,” said Tyson, Prefontaine’s college roommate, “Billy never had his day against the best (at his best).”

McChesney spent most of his career running in Prefontaine’s shadow. “There are a lot of parallels,” said Steve McChesney, Bill’s older brother and himself an All-American at South Eugene. After Prefontaine’s death he would find himself billed as the “Next Pre,” a label that he would come to view as an honor, an annoyance and eventually a burden.

“Everybody called him the ‘Next Pre,’” Steve McChesney said. “Billy wanted to be the next Billy.”

Prefontaine was one of the first to recognize McChesney’s potential. While giving a fitness talk to McChesney’s eighth grade health class, Prefontaine had the students measure their pulse. Prefontaine’s was 43. McChesney’s was 40.

“Billy was pretty proud of that,” Steve McChesney said.

Tom McChesney, the oldest of four McChesney brothers and an Oregon steeplechaser, was a friend of Prefontaine’s and Prefontaine regularly encouraged the brothers. Steve and Bill were trackside on the night of Thursday, May 29, 1975 to watch Prefontaine and Tom McChesney run the 5,000 in a meet at Hayward. Prefontaine just missed breaking his own American record and on his victory lap passed Steve and Bill, then a senior and sophomore respectively at South Eugene.

“We slapped hands with him and said ‘great race,’” Steve McChesney recalled. “But it was no big deal. To us we were going to see Pre do that a lot more times. But that was the last time we saw him.”

Within a few hours Prefontaine was dead, killed around 12:30 a.m. when his MG convertible crashed into a rock wall along a hillside road above the Oregon campus.

“We were in shock,” Steve McChesney said.

(Eleven years later Tom McChesney would also die tragically, struck by a truck while riding his bike in Paramount.)

It wouldn’t take long for the media and Prefontaine’s devout fans, Pre’s People as they called themselves, to begin the search for an heir apparent. They only had to go eight blocks from Hayward Field to South Eugene High to find him.

The day after Prefontaine’s death, Bill McChesney built a large early lead in the state high school championships 2-mile, running under Prefontaine’s meet record pace. Then suddenly, still appearing strong, he inexplicably slowed.

“He coasted for a couple of laps,” said Steve, who finished second in the race. “He was not going to break Pre’s record. He certainly didn’t want to be the Next Pre on that day. He wanted to let Pre’s memory prevail.”
McChesney ran in the same front running, pedal to the metal style of his hero, hell bent, following his guts more than the clock.

“Billy was as tough as nails,” Centrowitz said.

He won six state titles at South, broke the national prep six mile and 10,000 records and eventually shattered Prefontaine’s state meet 2-mile record. He was part of South teams that set national records in the distance medley and 4-mile relays. The latter set in 1976 continues to stand.

“BILL McCHESNEY: THE LITTLE MACHINE. What does it take to be one of the nation’s best schoolboy distance runners?” asked the headline of Boys’ Life magazine cover story.

As an Oregon freshman, McChesney was a standout on the Ducks’ 1977 NCAA winning cross country team. But he spent much of the next three years battling the Achilles injury, the result of a high school classmate jumping on the tendon during a P.E. class basketball game.

As the Trials approached in the spring of 1980 the Next Pre was being thought of as just another burned out former teenage sensation.

“There was a group who said ‘he’s done,’” said Steve McChesney, who has coached more than 15 state champions at Massachusetts Newton South High. “They wrote him off, said he didn’t pan out. To some people it was almost personal.”

The criticism only fueled McChesney through long swim work-outs which he followed by running drills in the pool, simulating two minute, 800-meter intervals. After that he would ride an exercise bike for 20 minutes in a sauna while wearing a rain suit.

McChesney’s relentlessness showed signs of paying off at the NCAA Championships in Austin that June where he finished third and was the first American in the 5,000.

Even so, recalled Doug Brown, the former American record-holder in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, “nobody was picking him to make the team.”

Although Centrowitz, a 1976 Olympian at 1,500 meters, was the defending U.S. champion in the 5,000, much of pre-Trials attention was focused on Oregon’s Rudy Chapa, who had broke Prefontaine’s American 3,000 record the previous year, and veteran Marty Liquori, ranked No. 1 in the world in 1977.

“I was thinking about a medal (at the Olympics),” said Centrowitz, then two years out of Oregon. “I wasn’t thinking about Rudy or Marty.”

Centrowitz and McChesney wouldn’t get shot at a medal in Moscow because the Olympic boycott, the U.S. response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott also knocked the wind of the Trials. “Trying Hard to Go Nowhere” read the headline to a Sports Illustrated article on the Trials. A week of a cold, steady Oregon rain only added to the funk.

“It was a whole different feeling than at the ’76 Trials,” said Centrowitz, who now coaches at American University and is the father of World 1,500 bronze medalist Matthew Centrowitz. “There wasn’t the same juice. Most of the older guys were just going through the motions.”

World record high jumper Dwight Stones had a similar recollection of the 1980 Trials.

“A lot of guys were like ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” said Stones, now an analyst with NBC. “What was the point? We were just making money for somebody. It was pretty depressing, a bummer.”

And then McChesney took off.

Throughout his battles with his injuries, McChesney’s confidence had not wavered. When a local writer pushed past him following the Trials 5,000 heats to talk to another runner, McChesney snapped.

“Hey, don’t push me aside, I’m making the team,” Steve McChesney recalled his brother saying.

“Bill never doubted himself for a moment,” Steve McChesney continued. “He just saw himself on that team. He was convinced he could will himself to do it.”

Liquori, running his final race, and Chapa faded early despite a slow pace. When the pace continued to drag through two miles, McChesney, convinced that a daring gamble was his only shot at making the team and concerned about not reaching the Olympic ‘A’ standard of 13:35, spat and then bolted.

“I think that was his way of saying ‘The race is starting now,’” Steve McChesney said of his brother spitting.

The move sent a surge of electricity through the crowd, which was soon on its feet as McChesney opened up a 10, then 20, then 30 and 40 meter gap. With 700 to go it looked like he might steal the race. With 600 to go he began to labor. He was passed by Centrowitz, who went on to win in 13:30.62, and then Dick Buerkle. As the race headed into the final turn, McChesney was fading fast and Jerald Jones in fourth was charging hard.

They entered the homestretch nearly even and then McChesney dug down one more time.

“I hate to admit this,” Steve McChesney said, “but I didn’t watch the last 100 meters. I couldn’t. I actually buried my eyes.”

The crowds roar told him his younger brother had made it, lunging past Jones at the finish line by less than a half-second—13:34.42 to 13:34.71. By the time Steve McChesney looked up Bill was on his knees kissing the track.......Finish Reading At the Orange County Register