By Curtis Anderson / TrackTown USA
EUGENE, Ore. – The Oregon Twilight Meet was born of tragic circumstance.
It was a benefit hastily thrown together by Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman to raise funds for injured UO long jumper Bob Woodell, who had been paralyzed from the waist down when a float he was helping his fraternity brothers carry overturned and fell on him, crushing his first lumbar vertebra.
Bowerman visited Woodell in the hospital and asked if he could put on a fund-raiser to help with Woodell’s medical expenses. Still heavily sedated, Woodell thought Bowerman simply wanted to host a barbecue at his home for the track team.
Instead, on a cool, calm evening on June 2, 1966, more than 8,000 people showed up at Hayward Field for the “Bob Woodell Invitational,” in part spurred on by the promise of a stirring duel in the mile between sub-4-minute veterans Dyrol Burleson and Jim Grelle, along with Wade Bell, a junior half-miler at Oregon, and UO freshman phenom Roscoe Divine.
Admission was $1 and everyone paid, including athletes, coaches, officials and media. As word spread around town, stories circulated of people buying 100 tickets at a time.
With Woodell watching from an ambulance stretcher in the Hayward Field infield, the atmosphere that night was described as “electric,” and the milers lived up to their billing. Burleson won in 3:57.3, followed by Divine in 3:59.1 and Bell in 3:59.8. Grelle was forced to drop out on the third lap after getting clipped hard in the ankle.
At the time, it was the fastest mile race ever staged at Hayward Field. More important, it raised nearly $10,000 to help defray the costs of Woodell’s yearlong stay in the hospital.
“It was the only track meet that I ever paid to run in, and I was glad to do it,” Bell told The Register-Guard several years later. “I still own the ticket I had to purchase at that meet. I carry it in my wallet in memory of that night.”
The meet’s name, of course, was later changed to the Oregon Twilight, and for years, the featured event was the mile. UO alum Dub Myers set the Oregon Twilight mile record of 3:55.31 in 1986.
Oregon Twilight Meet Notes
- Legendary Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine competed at Hayward Field 38 times between 1970 and ’75, losing only three races, all in the mile. His first loss came as a freshman at the Oregon Twilight Meet in 1970. Although he clocked his first sub-4-minute mile at 3:57.4, Pre still finished behind teammate Roscoe Divine.
- Pre set his 10,000m PR of 27:43.6 at the 1974 Oregon Twilight Meet. That mark still stands as a meet record.
- Six-time Olympian Maria Mutola (1988-2008), who lived and trained in the Eugene-Springfield community for a decade, holds two Oregon Twilight records, neither in her specialty at 800 meters. The Mozambique native is the meet record-holder in the 400m (52.62, 1998) and 1,500m (4:07.50, 1992).
- Brian Crouser, the father of Texas thrower Ryan Crouser, and uncle of former UO javelin throwers Sam Crouser and Haley Crouser, set the Oregon Twilight Meet record in the javelin (256-0) in 1989.
- The Oregon Twilight Meet attendance record of 7,012 fans was set in 2012.
- Oldest Oregon Twilight Meet records still on the books: (MEN) Bouncy Moore, long jump, 26-1 ½, 1971; (WOMEN) Judi Brown, 200m, 22.53 & 400m hurdles, 57.27.
Other Notable Oregon Twilight Meet Record-Holders
1979 – Rudy Chapa, 3,000m, 7:37.7
1984 – Judi Brown, 400mH, 57.27
1988 – Cindy Greiner, 100mH, 13.39
1992 – Lance Deal, Hammer, 266-0
2000 – Marla Runyan, 5,000m, 15:07.66
2005 – Dathan Ritzenhein, 5,000m, 13:22.23
2009 – Jesse Williams, High jump, 7-8.
2014 – Ashton Eaton, 110mH, 13.47
2015 – Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Long jump, 21-8 ¼