Thoughts on Steve Prefontaine and his legacy


I was seventeen years old when Steve Prefontaine lost his life in an auto accident, in May 1975. Steve Prefontaine was a brash, opinionated, focused Olympian who was far from his best at the time of his death. Forty-two years later, one wonders what would have become of the late Steve Prefontaine.

The Pre Classic honors Steve Prefontaine and his legacy each and every May. The little company that has become the Nike behemoth celebrates running, jumping and throwing at Hayward Field each and every Pre Classic.

The performances were fantastic and on my drive back from Eugene, after a little sleeping, there was some reflection on Steve Prefontaine.

#tbt Pre at Oregon Twilight, 1970.

A post shared by @preclassic on

Steve Prefontaine trained, before the 1972 Olympics, in Stockholm, where he spent time with Jan Johnson, who would become the bronze medalist in the 1972 Olympics in the pole vault. Jan Johnson and Steve Prefontaine were room mates part of that summer, and both were pretty high energy young adult American males. Jan told us, in an old American Track & Field article, that Steve Prefontaine loved assisting Mr. Johnson is carrying poles through airports around Europe. Steve apparently found it a fun way to meet young woman as Jan Johnson and Pre traveled. Jan Johnson told us about a workout he timed for Steve Prefontaine, which included three times the mile, starting at 4:12, and getting faster. Jan Johnson told me that it was impressive to watch.

In 1993, at the Pre Classic, Frank Shorter spoke about the effect that Steve Prefontaine's loss had on him. Shorter told the assembled crowd that he had developed a relationship with Pre training over the past few years with Pre. Shorter noted that a part of him died with the death of Steve Prefontaine.

Steve Prefontaine was a fun loving, pretty atypical 25 year old, who loved his friends, family and fans. He thrived on his racing at Hayward Field. Racing and running was not about money to Pre, or he would have taken the $250,000 offer from the Professional Track Circuit at the time. He had places to go, and races to win.

David Bedford, is the former World Record holder at 10,000 meters, and since 1998, the elite coordinator and past Race Director of the Virgin Money London Marathon. David Bedford told me recently, about spending an enjoyable evening in Munich, Germany, the night after the 5000 meter final at the 1972 Olympics. David enjoyed Steve Prefontaine's company, and told me that he thought Steve Prefontaine and him were much alike. In an upcoming video series from RunBlogRun, watch for David Bedford to discuss some of his time with Steve Prefontaine.

I never got to meet Steve Prefontaine. I did watch Steve Prefontaine race a few times on TV, and watched him interviewed. I have watched those videos again and again, as well as read Tom Jordan's book, Pre!, several times. He was, and is, an American enigma. I am sure he would be bemused over the Pre Classic. Pre was a track fan and enjoyed other events besides distance running.

pre montreal Nike .jpgThe Shoe above was called the Pre Montreal. I wore that pair my entire senior year, racing from 880 yards to 2 miles. That summer, with friend Bob Lucas, I ran my first hour run championships, and with Bob Lucas and Danny Grimes, ran our first 10,000 meters on the track. It was a colorful, fun shoe and reminded me of my hero.

I like to picture Steve Prefontaine sitting in the stands at Hayward Field, in a hoodie and sweats. Pre would be watching the Pre Classic, and any other meet at Hayward Field. Would he have enjoyed the youngsters, like Jakob Ingebrigtsen and DJ Principe in the mile? How would he have enjoyed the young vaulter, Mondo Duplantis? And the grand battle in the triple jump, with William Claye and Christian Taylor, with two huge jumps would have put a smile on his face, would he have enjoyed that? Finally, the 5000 meters, with Mo Farah winning from a huge field of 29, might have caught his attention.

Mostly, I would have just liked to have talked to Pre, and asked him what he loved about his sport.

I am sure that would have been a colorful answer.

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