Pat Porter: He Wore Short Shorts, Just like we all did, U.S. cross country legend, Pat Porter's life, as told by those who ran with him, by Jon Gugala, note by Larry Eder

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Eyestone-Porter-Williams-USxc93.jpg
Ed Eyestone, Pat Porter, Todd Williams, USA XC 1993, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

(Dear readers, we  updated and reposted Jon Gugala's piece with photos from USA XC 1992, 1993 with Pat Porter). 

I was stunned when I saw the update about Pat Porter's crash on July 26, 2012. I was on my way to London for the Olympics. 

My mind went back to the 1984 Olympic Trials, watching Pat make the 10,000 meter team with Craig Virgin and Paul Cummings. He made it again in 1988. And from 1982 to 1991, he dominated American cross country. It took Todd Williams to wear him down in 1991, I believe. 

I also remember a funny bit from 1992. In the Trials in 1992, in lovely New Orleans, Pat Porter was in the 10,000 meters. There were heats, and I believe one of our photographers, made it clear to Pat that he could jog the heat as there were only eight guys left, so why kill oneself? I believe that the heat was run in something like 31 minutes, 08 seconds. Pat did kick back a bit, as the humidity was terrible in New Orleans that night. 

Well, the officials were not happy and noted photographer had to leave the stadium for a bit. It was my first Olympic Trials as a magazine publisher and I had just had an incident with my other photographer at the time, who had used a commonly known four letter word on the local police captain, who had sent him packing from Tad Gormley. 

It took two hours to get photographers back into the stadium. Ah, the good old days. 

Pat Porter was one of the great athletes coached by Joe Vigil. Porter was built to run cross country, and running in the high altitude climes of Alamosa, Colorado, Porter was near perfection. 

I asked Jon Gugala to speak to some of Pat's friends about Porter, his athletic abilities and his legacy. Please keep Pat's wife, Trish Porter, an Olympic high jumper, and their son, in your thoughts and prayers. 


He Wore Short Shorts, Just Like We All Did


Eyestone-Williams-Porter-USxc93.jpg

Ed Eyestone, Todd Williams, Pat Porter, USA XC 1993, 

photo by PhotoRun.net


U.S. cross country legend Pat Porter's life, as told by those who ran with him


by Jon Gugala


On the morning of July 26, far from the excitement of the 2012 London Olympics, 

a Beech B-60 airplane crashed just past the departure runway of a small airport in 

Sedona, Ariz. Determined a "loss of lift" after takeoff, Pat Porter, a two-time 

Olympian and the aircraft's pilot, was killed, as was his 15-year-old son and 

his son's friend. Porter was 53.


Ed Eyestone, who was on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team with Porter and has remained in communication with him over the years, remembers receiving the news later that morning when checking emails. He remembers his disbelief, and the hope that the news wasn't true. He remembers in one of their many telephone calls Porter inviting him to go for a flight sometime. 


It was not in Seoul that the pair met; while Porter twice represented the 

U.S. in the 10,000-meters (in 1984 and 1988), his legacy looms larger than 

life over domestic cross country, where he won eight consecutive TAC 

(the precursor to USA Track & Field) titles from 1982 to 1989. It was 

in this arena, and in the mud and grass of the IAAF World Cross Country 

Championships, that cemented a relationship that would last though 

Porter's early passing.


Simply put, no American has ever matched Porter's cross country dominance, 

and with the disrepair that it has fallen in both domestically and abroad, 

it's unlikely that anyone ever will. Even American legend Craig Virgin, 

who won the 1980 and '81 World Cross Country Championships and was a 

nine-time world team competitor between 1978 and 1988, was not as 

consistently great at the sport. Porter's passing ended an era. 


There are many things that made Porter great, but what teammates 

remember first was his stride. Virgin, who was on five World Cross 

teams with him, remembers Porter with legs too long to be utilized 

on the track: "His stride was longer than normal and he was real 

springy," he says. "If we ran in the snow or the sand, he probably 

had 12 or 14 more inches to his stride than I did. And he floated. 

He was real light, real thin, real wiry, and just seemed to float 

through the mud when we got to those European courses."


Eyestone, who from 1983 World Cross in Gateshead, England, was 

Porter's roommate every year from then on, remembers stifling a 

groan when it came time to squaring off with Porter at nationals: 

"You knew that it was going to a long, grinding ordeal," he says, 

"and you knew you were probably going to end up watching his bony 

stride rolling away from you."


What differentiated Porter, Virgin says, was his relative speed, 

which differed from track speed.


"In cross country, if you could run a 58- to 62-second last 400 [meters], 

you were running pretty damn fast," he says. "A lot of the big-time kickers 

that could run 56 on the track couldn't run a 58-60--they just weren't built 

that way. He probably had faster finishes, relatively speaking, on cross 

country than what he had on the track."


But that relative speed and tailor-made frame paled when compared to Porter's 

fanatical devotion to cross country. Add in that piece to the man, and you 

begin to understand his myth. 


Talking to former teammates and competitors, they unanimously agree that 

no one took cross country more seriously, even though everyone in that 

decade took it seriously. Virgin remembers Porter cutting European track 

campaigns short in mid-July, with a month and a half left in the season, 

so that he could start his preparations for cross. And Virgin remembers 

thinking, if only Porter had stuck around longer in Europe, maybe he would 

have learned the track tactics that would have led to his big breakthrough 

in that medium. But Porter's heart was on the grass.


"He was very intense on race day," Eyestone says. "Any time you have a 

guy that has won the national championship eight years in a row, there 

are going to be some guys that aren't huge Pat Porter fans. So I'm not 

going to say that he didn't have the swagger and the ego that went along 

with that. But that's not a bad thing. And that's what made him a champion.


"I think a lot of people were looking at cross country as a preparatory 

thing for the track season, but I think he realized he had a particular 

gift to run up and down hills and through grass and mud. I think he felt 

like it was a gift, so he was going to utilize it." 


Of his eight years running World Cross, Porter's peak result was in 1984, 

when he finished fourth in the horsetrack of the Meadowlands in New Jersey. 

It was and is one of the two times the U.S. has hosted the race, and from the gun, 

Porter dictated the pace. He led lap after lap, up and down the makeshift 

plywood hill, until Carlos Lopes of Portugal put in a final surge in the 

last loop of the course. Porter's result, with Eyestone in sixth, led the 

U.S. men to a second place team finish.


"We were second because we had such a strong team. And Pat Porter was the 

epitome of that. He came in with an unmatched passion for it," says Virgin, 

who was 17th that year.


But, as with all things, "Our lives get busy," Eyestone says, 

"and we move on."


Eyestone, after Olympic marathons in 1988 and 1992, is now the head track 

and field and cross country coach at his alma mater, Brigham Young University, 

and Virgin continues to work extensively in the running industry. When Porter 

finished his career, from all accounts he quite simply left running behind.


"When I talk with other guys back from my era, most all of them enjoy talking 

about back in the day. They enjoy talking about the old races, or the old workouts, 

or the old rivalries, and laughing at each other," Virgin says. "Pat visited with me, 

and was very cordial on the phone, but I walked away from it with the impression that he had basically said, Ok, that's over. That's my other life. Now I've moved on."


Williams-Kennedy-Porter-USxc92.jpg

Todd Williams, Pat Porter, Bob Kennedy, USA XC 1992, 

photo by PhotoRun.net


"He wasn't one of these guys who was living in the past. I don't know how many people really knew 'The Olympian' Pat Porter. He wasn't even really worried about that," Eyestone says.


Porter married 1988 Olympian Trish King, leaving his adopted hometown of Alamosa, Colo., to settle in Albuquerque, N.M., and raise a family. He became a top salesman for an area homebuilder and won a number of awards in recognition. Eyestone says that when they spoke, Porter seemed to have taken all the devotion and passion he had for the sport of running and turn it toward his family. 



Eyestone remembers once at a World cross trip, he and Porter had one of those rare spiritual conversations that young, invincible men have. "I remember he asked me, 'What's your ultimate goal?' he says. Here I said we believe if you believe in Christ and do good and try to live a decent life and serve others, we can ultimately return to live with God someday with our families forever. He said, 'Well, that's the same ultimate goal that I have, too.'


"We didn't share the same religion, but we shared the same kind of belief 

system. I thought of that discussion as I heard of his passing, and I thought 

that, to me, it seems that Pat had done everything in his life for that to 

come to pass." 


Virgin, when we talk, is doing one of his infamous late-night road trips from his 

home in southern Illinois to Chicago, and he says that it's been a long day.


"I just want to make sure that you understand that Pat was a tough competitor, 

but he was also a good teammate," he says. "Again, I'm tired. I'm starting to 

blank out here on you."


You can hear the road noise underneath his tires, and the sound of the windshield 

wipers as they slap away the tail of a northbound Hurricane Isaac.


Is there anything else you'd say about Porter, any last memories of him as a teammate?


He and Eyestone have already told their Porter stories, how he used to keep rattlesnakes in glass tanks in his living room, or how he rode a Harley and collected guns, some automatic.


"I never saw Pat in western boots, and to this day I always wonder why," Virgin says. "Of course he had that panther tattooed on his leg later on in his career. That made a big impression with the girls because it just sort of peeked out of his shorts."


Virgin is quiet for a moment. Then he says, "Pat let his feet do that talking. 

And he wore short shorts, just like we all did."


Updated September 28, 2012


Updated October 9, 2012, with pictures from 1993, 1992, courtesy of PhotoRun.net.



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