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Steve Prefontaine — January, 2016
Steve Prefontaine is a 1972 U.S. Olympian who finished fourth in the 5,000 meters. He was a three-time NCAA cross country champion in 1970, 1971 and 1973. Steve was the first NCAA track athlete to win the same event four times, which he did in the 3-mile/5,000 meters in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973. Pre won the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000 meters and 1971 and 1973 AAU Championships at 3-miles. He won Gold medals at the 1971 Pan Am Games and 1971 U.S.-U.S.S.R meet at 5,000 meters and the 1972 Bislett Games at 3,000 meters. The Oregon graduate held American records at all seven distances from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters. Steve graduated from Marshfield High School (Oregon) in 1969 where highlights included five Oregon State Championships, twice each in Cross Country and the 2-mile and once in the mile. He set the national high school 2-mile record of 8:41.5. Steve’s personal best times include: 1,500 meters – 3:38.1; mile 3:54.6.; 2,000 meters AR (5:01.4); 3,000 meters AR (7:42.6); two miles AR (8:18.4); three miles AR (12:51.4); 5,000 meters AR (13:22.2); six miles AR (26:51.4) and AR 10,000 meters (27:43.6). He passed away following an auto accident at the age of 24. Steve’s dedication, intensity, charisma and grit have inspired countless runners and continue to do so. Go Pre! Pre lives!
GCR:For those of you who have read any or all of my previous 92 monthly interviews, and for those of you for whom this is the first, you may be wondering exactly what is this 'Steve Prefontaine interview?'
AnswerBefore I started running in 1973, my 'fab five' of running heroes were Jim Ryun, Marty Liquori, Dave Wottle, Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine. These men inspired me to began competitive running. I was devastated when Steve died just two weeks nefore I graduated from high school. I used his front-running style and made my competitors work hard if they wanted to beat me. I have read Tom Jordan's book, 'Pre,' again, watched 'Fire on the Track' again, read numerous Sports Illustrated articles, taken comments about Steve from my previous interviews and spent nearly two hours on the phone with Steve's sister, Linda. All of this is compiled into my best stab at an inteview with Steve. Linda provides all of the 'Inside Stuff' at the end and you will enjoy many insights into this charismatic runner and individual who left us way too soon, but has inspired countless people after he left this earth. I hope you enjoy my labor of love that I present for the running community!
GCR:1972 OLYMPICS SI: What are your thoughts on race strategy in the 1972 Olympic 5,000 meters?
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘Nobody is going to win the gold medal after running an easy first two miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself. But if it's a slow pace, and I get beaten by a kicker who leaches off the front, then I'll always wonder, 'What if...?' Right now I'd say we'd go out in world-record pace for the first couple of miles—and then I'll turn it on, start destroying people. If anybody wants to beat me, let them run a world record.’ (SI 8/28/72 Pre-Olympic Issue)
GCR:At the 1972 Olympics Steve went for the Gold and obviously that medal was his goal. Do you think if Ian Stewart hadn’t passed him and he had been the Bronze medalist, even though that wasn’t what he was going for, that it would have been a little bit easier since he would have at least gotten a medal?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: Sure, even though we didn’t really talk about it. Ian Stewart, when I met him a few years ago, told me ‘your brother should have won that medal. I didn’t deserve it the way I ran. Your brother deserved it. But it ended up being what it was.’ Maybe it was easier to accept when Steve realized it was only one day in time and that there were going to be more days, but unfortunately that didn’t happen for him. But if he came back he would have come back with a vengeance and, of course I’m his sister, but I believe he would have won it in 1976. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:What are your thoughts on Steve Prefontaine’s racing and his 1972 Olympic race?
AnswerIan Stewart: ‘I certainly always felt that the problem that he had was that he didn’t come and race us enough. I felt that he was very, very good in America. I can remember talking to him about Munich and he said, ‘I’ll run inside four minutes for the last mile.’ I always got the impression that he thought he was the only one who could run inside of four minutes for the last mile. Whereas I knew I could and I also knew four others who could as well. In fairness to Prefontaine, he ran better than I did that day. I probably didn’t deserve to get a medal. Not the way I ran.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:How was Steve Prefontaine’s mental state immediately after the disappointing fourth place finish in the 1972 Olympic 5,000 meters?
AnswerBlaine Newman of the Eugene Register-Guard: after the Olympic race… I said, ‘I know you feel bad, but we’ve got to talk.’ He said, ‘I’ve got nothing to say.’ And I said, ‘What about all those people back in Eugene, the people at Hayward field, Pre’s people? They’ve lived this race with you, they can understand what happened. How old are you?’ He said 21 or 22. ‘And you finished fourth in the world, how bad is that?’ he said, ‘Well, that’s not too bad.’ I said, ‘did you run for third or second? No, you ran to win, you took the lead with a mile to go, you ran your butt off, now how bad is that? ‘No, it wasn’t that bad.’ He started up talking and twenty minutes later he was all pumped up again. I remember Great Britain’s David Bedford walking by, and he shouted at Bedford, ‘I’ll see you in Montreal and I’ll kick your butt.’ (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Did you attend the 1972 Olympics?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I didn’t go to the Olympics because I wanted to stay home and work to pay for my college education. And my parents going to Germany to the Olympics was not a trip that would last just for nine days. They went for several months because of all of the relatives and friends my mother has in Germany. They took the time back then to really visit with their friends and relatives. Lots of people talk in German, that I couldn’t really understand, and sitting inside little apartments with all of them smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and eating wasn't something I was fond of. That was standard practice with the relatives from one pace to the next to the next when you visit. You didn’t go and see the sites because there were so many people she wanted to see. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:How did the 1972 Olympic experience affect your brother?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I think what happened to him in the Olympics opened up his eyes, matured him; the longer hair and the sideburns were the rebellious side, a manifestation that he wasn’t going to conform anymore to what he thought he was supposed to do or act or say. I think that change in his appearance was a change that was going on inside of him. I suppose some of that was maturing and him thinking, 'I’m gonna get you next time.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:FUN STORIES You were an Olympic teammate of Steve Prefontaine and toured Europe with him and others while competing in International meets. Do you have any favorite Pre stories?
AnswerDave Wottle: When you’re 23 years old and travelling around Europe, how much more fun can you have? We knew Jaakko Tuominen of Finland who had competed for Brigham Young University and he set up all of the meets. We all would sit around and talk track and Pre and I trained together. At each meet Ralph Mann would race the local sprinters and hurdlers while Pre and I would take on the distance runners. It was like a five week ‘travelling meet’ in seven or eight Scandinavian towns. There were plenty of good runners competing against us, so it wasn’t just for show. Pre was always upset as he wanted to beat me in the mile. There was one race in Malmo and it was a photo finish. He was so ticked when they gave the nod to me as he finally thought he’d beaten me. He may have – who knows? I remember when we were at a cabin on a Scandinavian lake and we were water skiing naked. The water was freezing cold and we were trying to wipe each other out. Another time we were in a sauna on the lake and Pre poured a bucket of water on the coals and locked me in. I remember my eyebrows were singed and I could see him laughing through the window. I was yelling, ‘I’m going to kick your butt! Open this door!’ Then he opened the door and ran and jumped in the lake. I ran out of the door and said, ‘How’s the lake?’ Pre shouted, ‘It feels great!’ So I jumped in and it about stopped my heart as I was so hot from the sauna and the lake was frigid. The whole trip was such a good time. It was great competition; great talk and good, clean fun. Then Pre and I joined the AAU team in Turin, Italy. Afterward he was tired and went home while I competed in Minsk, Russia and then at the Crystal Palace in London, England. (GaryCohenRunning interview with Dave Wottle - April, 2010)
GCR:SI discussion with Steve in 1970 as his speed improved in a year in the 100 from 11.2 to 10.7; in the 220 from 25 to 23.2; and in the 440 from 51 to 49.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: I can feel myself getting faster all the time. I work a lot with Roscoe Divine for speed, and he works a lot with me for strength. I don't know if I can keep improving as rapidly as I have this past year, but if I do... Who knows, maybe in a couple of years I'll stop running distances and run dashes? (SI 6/15/1970)
GCR:At the 1972 Olympics Trials, I remember when I was a teenager seeing you on television wearing a ‘Stop Pre’ t-shirt. What’s the story behind that?
AnswerGerry Lindgren: When I went to the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon in 1972 the fans were all yelling. ‘Go Pre,’ because they were all Pre fans at the time. One of the guys covering the meet had an idea of printing a ‘Stop Pre’ shirt which he distributed to other reporters. He wanted to get it down on the field and asked me if I would wear the ‘Stop Pre’ shirt during my warm up before the race. I said, ‘Yea, I think that would be kind of funny.’ It caused a commotion in the stands. It was quite funny and people seemed to like it as it was comical to break up the tension. After the race Pre took the shirt out of my warm up box where I had my clothes, put it on and ran around wearing it. (GaryCohenRunning interview with Gerry Lindgren - February, 2012)
GCR:SI discussion with Steve in 1972 about staying behind the pack instead of leading.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘Did you ever run behind a slow pack? You get a trailing wind and a lot of body odor.’ (SI 2/21/72 L.A. Indoor Games)
GCR:When you were out playing with friends, was Steve fairly protective of you and a caring big brother?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: Yes, he was and it was a double edged sword. It was like, ‘no one else can hit my sister but me.’ We were young and grade school age and he was always picking on me - slapping me across the arms and I had bruises on my arms. My dad got upset and wanted me to tell where I got the bruises and wanted me to tell on Steve and then give him a lesson like Steve was giving me. But, he was very protective. If someone would have gone after me, he would have thumped them. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Discussion with Marty Liquori after Steve beat him at the L.A. Times Indoor meet and then got in from partying at 5:00 a.m.
AnswerMarty Liquori: He woke me up at 5:00 a.m. to ask when I had to get up to catch my plane back east. At about 7:00 a.m. I got up and he got up with me and said, ‘I’ll help you carry your bags downstairs.’ Then he went out on a ten mile run. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Discussion with Dave Wottle about the different personalities of Steve and him.
AnswerDave Wottle: We were like salt and pepper. I was the bland person. I was introverted. I was married at the time. I was not a party-goer. Steve was the pepper. He was the spice. He was outgoing, extroverted, single, putting the moves on everybody. We were just like Mutt and Jeff. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:SI discussion with Steve in 1972 after George Young was unable to race at the L.A. Indoor Games.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘Goldarn! I wanted to run against Young more than anybody in the field. I wanted to test the veteran out. I almost said the old man, but I don't want to make him mad and give him something to use against me when we do race. Besides, he's not really old. And I like him a lot. He's super intelligent, and very good-looking. And he has a great family. And I hope he remembers all these nice things I'm saying when we do race. (SI 2/21/72 L.A. Indoor Games)
GCR:A legendary story about Steve’s disdain for ‘sit and kick’ tactics after Pre returned from racing in Europe in 1973 and while injured was outkicked by West German Harold Norpoth who would never lead and help with the pace.
AnswerDave Taylor: ‘I had this t-shirt made up with NORPOTH on the back. About halfway through a training run, I whipped off my sweat-shirt and took off sprinting in front of Pre. He went into a rage, and came up and grabbed me and started choking me, and said, ‘If that skinny sonuvabitch, if he ever does that to me again, here’s what I’ll do to him,’ and he was beating me up on the run. It was in fun and he was smiling, but he let us know that he didn’t really appreciate what the guy had done. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
AnswerThat man has something no runner in my time had. We used to warm up out of sight behind the stands, and we would never have considered taking a victory lap. But Pre...he's almost like a movie star in his relationship with the crowd. He thrives on it. (SI June 09, 1975)
GCR:Geoff Hollister:
AnswerWe began to realize this guy was bigger than life, there’s something about him that has this ability to absorb all of this energy and electricity that was in the stands and you were part of it, you were part of this electricity. You were helping to provide some of that which was going down to him and he was providing it back up to you. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Steve Prefontaine:
AnswerI kind of looked up at the crowd and a lot of races went through my mind. There have been some great ones here. They've given me a lot and I hope I've given them a lot in the last four years.’ (SI May 28, 1973) (Pac-8 meet; last home meet in college)
GCR:Jeff Galloway:
AnswerTo run against Pre in Oregon was a mistake if you thought you were going to win because Pre not only had confidence but he inhabited races and competitions so much that even if you didn’t want to you were intimidated by his confidence and his aura. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Jim Ryun:
AnswerWhenever there was a chance, Pre and I would run and train together. During that time I sensed closeness as we would share sweat and conversation. I particularly enjoyed Pre’s lack of shyness. If I signed an autograph, Go with god,’ he’d ask why. Very few people ask why. Pre was that unique person who wanted to know and would not take things for granted. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Frank Shorter:
AnswerWhen I think of Oregon, I think of the homesteader mentality: tough, hard-nosed, direct. That was Pre. You cheered for him; you knew you’d get something in return. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Mayor Les Anderson:
AnswerYou have to recognize that track is a way of life here in Eugene. Pre penetrates beyond the track and into the crowd. Some athletes win a race and afterward they're poker-faced. Pre's expression is 'You helped me win it.' (SI May 28, 1973)
GCR:Bill Bowerman:
AnswerThe thing about Pre that sets him apart from other athletes at Oregon were the many other things he got involved in. He’d go out and help kids and run with the old joggers and women. He’d go up and get involved in that program at the State Penitentiary. That was just the kind of guy he was. He was an achiever. Way beyond the ordinary. Anything this guy went into, he was achieving 200 percent. Tremendous energy. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan
GCR:PRE’S TOUGHNESS when you were kids and were playing was Steve the leader, the follower, the ringleader, a seeker of approval, more of a maverick?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: With me he was the leader. But it was a mixture with the neighborhood kids and depended on who was participating in the group at the time, especially if there was someone older than him. We grew up in the time when there was no computer or having your own phone. When the weather was nice and we weren’t going to school we were out playing all of the time, playing football, baseball, hide and seek and riding bicycles. We were in a small town and there wasn’t much offered – there weren’t kid’s sports in Coos Bay. We made our own games up/- all those things kids did when growing up and there doesn’t seem to be much of that any more. We climbed trees. We built forts. We did what now is known as the term, ‘cross training,’ before there was cross training. Back then we went out to play with whatever neighbors were around, made up teams and we played. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Steve Prefontaine:
Answer‘There are a lot of factors that make me run. Probably the biggest one is that I enjoy it or I’ve acquired an enjoyment for it. After so many years of running, it’s part of my life now. Another reason would have to be the Olympic Games and trying for a Gold medal. And the third thing would have to be competition. I love to compete against people and not in just track and field, but almost anything. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Stan James (team physician):
AnswerHe could carry his maximum effort longer and harder than anybody could. Anyone who got in a race with him knew there was going to be blood on the track by the time it was through. He told me one time, ‘Someone may beat me - but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Steve Prefontaine:
AnswerIf you’re a runner you’re never completely satisfied unless you get a World’s Record.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Jon Anderson:
AnswerHe's not like other distance runners. He's not quiet, not introspective. He can't relax. A 15-mile run in the woods makes me kind of mellow and satisfied. All it does for Pre is make him mad. Most distance runners find expression in easy running; we take comfort in that kind of personal experience. Pre's kind of running is always hard and straining and fierce. (SI June 09, 1975)
GCR:Steve Prefontaine:
AnswerI proved to myself after the Olympics that I could come back stronger than ever. Even with an injury, I'm running better than I ever have. Before, when I did something good in a race, I'd be satisfied that I was working toward becoming better. Now I realize afterward that I'm capable of better things. Like after the 3:55 mile. I thought to myself, 'I know I can run 3:50.' (SI May 28, 1973)
GCR:Lars Kaupang of Norway (teammate of Pre):
Answer‘There did seem to be a difference between Pre and the other runners. He seemed to be able to go out on the track and do three-quarter miles, half miles, miles, all by himself, and he was able to push himself to a limit that nobody else could.’ (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:RACING After a redshirt season in 1968 due to Olympic Trials preparation you raced your final cross country season in 1969. How much of an eye-opener was it at the Pacific 8 Conference meet when you and Oregon freshman Steve Prefontaine dueled to a near dead heat?
AnswerGerry Lindgren: This guy scared the devil out of me as he was pretty tough. When we had the dual meet with Oregon I had been injured as usual and he caught me and beat me. Going into the conference championship he had a big head. I took off and had a big lead going up the first big hill at Stanford on their golf course. Near the top of the hill there was Pre going ahead of me and I had to catch him going down the hill. Through the whole race I’d sprint to try to get ahead of him and he would sprint with me every darn time. Approaching the finish line I was depleted and there was nothing left. With about 200 yards to go he saw the finish line and it seemed he was forcing me into the crowd as they were right up against us on my side. That’s how we ran the last 200 yards with me trying to fight him off. He leaned at the tape and I was straight up and it was an amazing finish to an amazing race. (GaryCohenRunning interview with Gerry Lindgren - February, 2012)
GCR:Take us through the 1969 NCAA Cross Country meet in Van Courtland, Park in New York and the major strategic moves during the race. How tough was it racing a confident Steve Prefontaine and defending champ Mike Ryan of Air Force who came in second only two seconds behind your 28:59 win with Pre a further 11 seconds back?
AnswerGerry Lindgren: Before the race started I told Pre that he would have to run the mile of his life the first mile because in the NCAA cross country meet everyone went out way, way too fast. In Provo they didn’t do it as much though because of the altitude, but they had the previous year in Kansas. The first mile had quite a bit of uphill running but everyone was out very hard and fast. I was in about tenth place at the mile and I heard 4:08 called out. Then runners started putting on the breaks as they must have thought they were out too fast. I ended up around a mile and a half in the lead as we ran through a wooded area of trails. Pre was right behind me on one side and Ryan was right behind on the other side. I remembered that when we ran around corners we would slow down so I had to pick it up after each corner to get back into my pace. They were right behind me and I would gain a few steps after each corner. When we came out of the woods I had a big lead on Mike Ryan who was ahead of Pre. That’s the way the race went and we finished in that order. (GaryCohenRunning interview with Gerry Lindgren - February, 2012)
GCR:SI discussion with Steve in 1971 after winning at three miles at the U.S. Championships in 12:58.6, less than nine seconds off the world record, only the second sub-13-minute three mile in the past five years and where he next five finishers did 13:07 or better.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘Three years ago you could hardly find a 13:07 three-miler in the country. Now you run that, and all you get is sixth place. Things just keep getting tougher and tougher.’ (SI 7/5/1971. US Track and Field Championships)
GCR:SI discussion with Steve in 1971 after Mirits Yifter misjudged the number of laps in the 5,000 meters, with 300 yards to go on the next-to-last lap, broke into a sprint, led Prefontaine by 40 yards, threw up his hands in supposed victory and came to a stop, thinking the race was over. In the ensuing confusion, Prefontaine completed the final lap and won in 13:57.6.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: I really didn't understand it until he put up his arms. It came as much as a shock to me as it did to him. I was looking forward to that last lap. He sprinted for about 100 yards down the backstretch, but then he was already starting to come back to me and I hadn't even begun my kick. Still, I don't like to win that way. Nobody likes tainted victories. I'd just as soon run it again.’(SI 7/26/1971 USA-Africa Meet in Durham, NC)
GCR:Discussion with Emiel Puttemans about Steve Prefontaine’s racing tendencies.
AnswerEmiel Puttemans: ‘He liked very much to race and to take the pace. He’s never waiting five meters, always passing very quickly and not looking after- going, going, going, going.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:You pushed Steve Prefontaine at the 1972 Olympic Trials in the 5,000 meters and you both broke the American Record though he pulled away on the final two laps to win. How tough of a competitor was Pre?
AnswerGeorge Young: I knew that he was a tough competitor. I was pretty sure that I could stay with him but didn’t know about the end because my conditioning compared with where I was I 1968 was not too close. I was training well and training hard but my average times on my repeat 400s which is how I evaluated my condition weren’t as fast. I knew that I wouldn’t have the kick I had in 1968. If I was in the condition I was in 1968 I would have beat him. I stuck as close as I could and when he kicked I realized I didn’t have it yet. (GaryCohenRunning interview with George Young - October, 2012)
GCR:Discussion with Steve Prefontaine about the plusses and minuses of racing internationally.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘You can look at it two ways. You can go over and get international experience against these people and you know what to expect from them and you know what they can do and they know what you can do. Or you can stay away from them and you can let them wonder.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:You raced your personal best mile of 3:53.3 in 1973 to beat Steve Prefontaine at the Hayward Field Restoration Meet, now known as the Prefontaine Classic. How did that race develop and how difficult was it to beat a competitor as tough as Pre?
AnswerDave Wottle: The whole idea for the meet started about two weeks earlier. I was at the AAU National Championships in Bakersfield and Prefontaine and I were slated to go to Europe in a couple weeks with hurdler Ralph Mann on a track tour. I had run the 800 meters at the AAUs and Pre came up to me afterward and said, ‘Hey why don’t you come up to Eugene and we’ll go for the mile record. I’ll bring you through in 2:56 and then each man for himself on the last lap.’ So I said, ‘Great. Good idea.’ It really shows the clout of Prefontaine as he orchestrated the meet in two weeks. He was able to make it happen. The Hayward stands were packed with fans that were very knowledgeable about track and field. Prefontaine brought me through in 2:56 flat – just what he said he would. I took the lead with about 180 meters to go. I think I started moving with a lap to go and passed him on the last turn. But I probably need to watch the ‘Fire on the Track’ movie which includes that race to jar my memories. What people don’t realize is that when Pre ran his PR that day of 3:54.6 he was the sixth fastest miler in history. People don’t envision Pre as a miler, but that’s a pretty good time for a 5,000 meter guy!
GCR:Discussion with Bill Dellinger about Steve Prefontaine’s dedication.
AnswerBill Dellinger: I said, ‘Pre, of all your American Records, the one I like the best is the fact that you came to Oregon and spent four years with never missing a workout, four years without ever missing a race.’ And he says, ‘Coach, I gotta tell you, there were a few Saturday mornings when I didn’t feel like running and there were a few races where I had a sore throat or a cold and I knew if I told you that you wouldn’t let me race, so I didn’t tell you.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Discussion with Dick Buerkle after he chatted with Steve Prefontaine at the Munich Sheraton on the 1973 Euro track tour:
AnswerDick Buerkle ‘He told me that he didn’t speak much English until he was five years old because his mom was from Germany. He talked about his family a little bit, about his plans for the future, just small-talk things. It surprised me that he was as open and talked as easily as he did. I had expected him to be a big dynamic personality that you almost couldn’t get next to.’ (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Discussion with Kenny Moore about Steve Prefontaine’s competitiveness.
AnswerKenny Moore: ‘He was so ferociously competitive in his sport. He understood that he was getting close to the limits in ways that few people do.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:ATHLETE’S RIGHTS Overall comments from Kenny Moore:
AnswerKenny Moore: ‘Pre was an angry voice for athletes’ rights. He was always in trouble with AAU officials.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Discussion of the 1973 NCAA track championships, where because of television, the finals in several distance races will be held on Saturday afternoon, just when Baton Rouge's weather can be expected to be at its sultry, muggy worst.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘I don't care about being on television. It's going to be uncomfortable for the distance runners. Why can't they run those races in the evening? I don't like it.’ (SI May 28, 1973)
GCR:Steve commenting on amateurism and the AAU.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘I don’t feel I’m any worse off than I have been in the past. I’ve caused them probably a lot of embarrassment and a lot of trouble. But I’m not trying to get under anyone’s skin. I’m just trying to bring the problems to a head – to get an understanding to make the people of this country realize what’s happening in amateur athletics and what’s happening is amateurs don’t have the same benefits as the Europeans and I’d just like to bring this to the acknowledgement of the public. Running doesn’t pay your bills. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to be in amateur sport in this country considering it’s so professionally oriented. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Steve discussing the AAU policy forcing the country's best trackmen to compete in international meets against the Soviet Union, against Poland and Czechoslovakia, against West Germany and Africa. An athlete who declined a spot on the national team or who did not run in the national AAU meet would be suspended for one year if he or she competed abroad during certain moratorium periods before the AAU championships and the international meets.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘I talked with a lot of other athletes at Modesto about the AAU's damn moratorium rule. In July there are only about 10 days when the moratorium is not in effect. That screws up my whole competitive schedule. Where are the best runners? Emiel Puttemans is Belgian. Brendan Foster is English. Rod Dixon is a Kiwi. Knut and Arne Kvalheim are Norwegians. Lasse Viren is from Finland. Does the AAU have any of them on their wonderful televised schedule? Hell, no. For me, running against the Poles and Czechs would be like running against high school kids. And I hate all this gung-ho, run-for-the-red-white-and-blue attitude that the AAU spouts. If that's important to some people, fine, more power to 'em. But, damn it, I wish they'd leave me alone to do what I want to do - run against the best.’ (SI June 09, 1975)
GCR:Discussion with Jon Hendershott on what troubled Steve with the track and field hierarchy.
AnswerJon Hendershott: I think this is the thing that bothered him the most – hypocrisy. There’s a lot of it anyway in life, and there was a lot in the leadership of track and field at that time. And he called a spade a spade. He didn’t pull punches. That’s something I always admired. He wasn’t politically correct. He didn’t know what that meant. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Steve commenting on the lack of post-collegiate support for athletes in the U.S.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘Where is the talent that I competed with when I started in 1969? ‘The shortage is of guys who are out of school and can still figure ways to train and find competition. I'm 24 years old and Frank(Shorter) is 27, and we're veterans. That's the shame. That's what's wrong with the American system.’ (SI June 09, 1975)
GCR:Don Kardong discussing on how Steve Prefontaine’s fight for athlete’s rights inspired him and others.
AnswerDon Kardong: ‘I have always felt that when we finally began to move toward professionalism in the early 1980s, that his comments and strong feelings about that were on everyone’s minds, especially mine. I never thought I would be running past college. I’m sure to a large degree that excitement that Pre used to create has sent me down this path. It was just so exciting to be in the races he was in, and the way that people related to him. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:EARLY RUNNING Linda Prefontaine on growing up in Coos Bay:
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: ‘You either got involved in athletics or you got involved in drugs or something less desirable. And he’s always talked about how he could have gone the other way but he found something he was good at and loved and the rest is history.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:High school runners are dealt the coach who happens to be at their school and when Steve started running he had Coach McClure. Did they hit it off pretty good and was it a good match?
AnswerLinda prefontaine: I would say absolutely with Coach McClure and the Assistant Coach, Bill Pershing. My brother respected both of them a lot and you could see it in their faces. My brother continued a relationship with Mr. McClure throughout college and back then it was with letters. It was too expensive to call long distance so you wrote post cards and letters. Steve was very good at it- they might have been short, they might have been rushed, but he was pretty good at keeping in contact with a lot of people – not just one or two and not just the family, but he had lots of people wanting a piece of him and he was very good about responding. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Coach Walt McClure discussing when Steve began to show his capabilities.
AnswerWalt McClure: ‘it was at the district cross country meet his sophomore year that his potential to become an outstanding runner showed itself. We were against the defending state mile champion and the boy who would become the state cross country champion, and there was maybe a quarter mile to go when this little guy in purple passed them and took a short lead. They got him in the end and the same thing happened at the state meet, where he got sixth. Steve was really mad. ‘Let’s run it again!’ he said. And he’d probably beaten them if they had.’ (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Steve talking about how he felt after running the mile in 4:32 and two miles in 9:42.5 his sophomore year and failing to qualify for the high school state meet.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: I was really bitter. Really angry with myself. I was sick. Then McClure talked to me. Whenever I got down he was always there to pick me up. I decided that if I was going to continue in track, that I didn't want to lose, that I wasn't going to lose. All summer all I thought about was coming back. I flogged myself in practice. All I did was run. On the beach. In the hills. (SI 6/15/1970)
GCR:Steve discussing his junior year in high school where in workouts he refused to let anyone finish ahead of him. And every race was the same as he would take the lead and never give it up. He didn't lose a race that year.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: I found a world where I belonged. But every once in a while I think what am I doing out here running, busting myself up? Life could be so much easier. The other guys are out having fun, doing other things, why not me? (SI 6/15/1970)
GCR:Steve’s mom talking about when she started going to more track meets.
AnswerElfriede Prefontaine: I was working and we didn’t see many meets as I was working. Then one day a woman came and said, ‘Mrs.Prefontaine, you should go to the meets. Your son is Olympic stuff.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:His senior year in high school Pre ran two miles in an American high school record 8:41.6. Forty colleges were after him.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: It was terrible. Mail, phone calls at all hours, people showing up at the door. It got so bad I really began to wish I had never set the record. I referred all the calls to my coach, and he usually told the caller to leave me alone. He wanted me to go to Oregon. (SI 6/15/1970)
GCR:Bill Dellinger discussing the first time he saw Steve Prefontaine.
AnswerBill Dellinger: We went to the state cross country meet - it would have been Pre’s junior year in high school. I had my binoculars and was probably a good 800 yards from the start and I saw this guy as they were called to the line to set position. It was the look in his eyes even from a half mile distance. The intensity that I saw in his face as the gun went off; I thought to myself, ‘That’s got to be Pre.’ (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:I didn’t succeed on Steve’s level, but I was All-State in track and cross and broke the county records in both, but when I think back I don’t even remember much about it affecting my family because I’d get home and we’d play board games and out in the street. So, when Steve was winning state meets and breaking national records, was there much of an effect at home or just family life as usual?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: Back then there weren’t many parents going to their kids’ sports events in Coos Bay because most of the parents I knew worked. But the tables turned, and this is in ‘Fire on the Track’ where my mom is being interviewed when someone went up to my mom and said, ‘do you have any idea how good your son is?’ And my mom in her German accent repeated, ‘he’s Olympic schtuff.’ Then they started going and once they started they didn’t stop. They went to every meet and the support changed. They travelled and I went to those same meets with my parents. Some of them were summer trips to California. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Steve’s dad talking about Steve hearing from Bill Bowerman.
AnswerRay Prefontaine: One of his heroes was Bill Bowerman of Oregon. When Steve got the letter from him it absolutely blew his mind. He was in seventh heaven. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:OREGON DUCK Steve Prefontaine discussing the change from running in high school to college.
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘The first thing I learned is that with Bowerman, school comes first. Then athletics. Then what you want to do. He says he is a teacher first, a coach second, and, boy, he means it. The athlete that doesn't learn that in a hurry is in for a lot of trouble. Right now, with the NCAA championships coming up, if I screwed up somehow he'd leave me home. Heck, if he thought it was right, he'd leave the whole team home. He's a man of principle, and for that very reason if he says I can do something, I believe it. It's almost superhuman. He can look at a guy and tell what he can do inside.’ (SI 6/15/1970)
GCR:Mac Wilkins discussing Pre’s arrival on the Oregon campus:
AnswerMac Wilkins: I called him ‘World’ and that was short for ‘World Famous.’ You come to college as a freshman and you’ve been on the national team and you have your USA national sweats - that’s as good as gold if you’re a track athlete. And you’re the hero of the town and you’ve been to Europe competing. You’re world famous. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Steve Prefontaine commenting on his long-term plan of progression that was formulated early in his college career. Bowerman wants his latest ace to progress at a rate of 10% improvement a year over the next 10 years. ‘We could move him a lot faster,’ he says, ‘but by the time he got out of school he'd probably be sick of it and quit. That's what happens to most of our runners. Steve's in no hurry.’
AnswerSteve Prefontaine: ‘Bowerman is right,’ says Pre. ‘I don't want to be like Jim Ryun. No doubt he'll come back, and when he does he'll again be the greatest, but I don't want to go through what he did, all that tremendous pressure when he was so young. It came so quickly. World records at 19. I don't want that. Later, yes. And when it comes, I'll learn to live with it, but it won't be my first love.’ (SI 6/15/1970)
GCR:WOMEN’S RUNNING AND ATHLETICS I’ve interviewed quite a few women who are informally known as ‘The Pioneers of Women’s Distance Running’ from back in those days. So, while you were playing and staying fit, what were the athletic opportunities for girls at that time in Oregon?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: It was pre-Title Nine. Schools were pretty healthy financially because of the timber industry at that time. It was very big and a money making machine that helped to fund the schools. We had P.E. and we had after-school programs and music and things that aren’t offered to kids anymore. We were fortunate to have access to these programs. Basically, women were supporters back then - we were supposed to get married and have kids and keep our husbands happy. When I competed at Marshfield High School, and I graduated in 1971, it wasn’t until 2006 that I was recognized with an athletic letter. It’s right here, ‘February 4, 2006 Marshfield High School Letter Award Celebration. On behalf of the community and the Coos Bay Marshfield School and Coos Bay High School District, we appreciate your dedication and hard work as a female varsity athlete at Marshfield High School, 1971.’ Now how many years did that take? Because nobody gave a grip about the girls. The funny thing is that there were so many talented girls that came out of Marshfield who went out, busted their butts and did some notable things and barely would get a write up in the newspaper. It took a while for Title IX to come into effect. The University of Oregon did the same thing on May 7, 2011. So five years later UO had a big to do, ‘The Women in Athletics Celebration.’ I have a University of Oregon varsity letter winner framed for my tennis. My brother was probably my biggest fan. He was always bragging about his little sister in tennis and how I was going to win state and kick the girls’ butts. He did that a lot and did it publicly. He was bragging about me in his interview. On my twenty first birthday he took me out to show me all of his favorite places here in Eugene. He told me that, when he was in a position to, he wanted to set up my own tennis camp for me. He used to come by my tennis practices when I was in college and sometimes he would stop by after his workouts to watch my tennis matches. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:How did Steve feel about women competing in athletics?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I’ve heard in some places that he didn’t like women in sports, but he was very much a supporter of women in athletics. At one point in time he was helping and coaching Mary Decker from a distance when she lived in California. Why would he do that if he didn’t believe in her? He was also coaching a girl who graduated a year or two behind me named Fran Hour. Fran was a heckuva athlete and set several state high school records. Unfortunately she got married, had children, and her logger husband got killed in the woods. I think she had three kids. Steve thought she could be in the Olympics. Then she married a classmate and they had two kids who set high school records and did well in college. I think this is sort of strange, but Steve had told her that if something happened to him while he was coaching her that she should go to Roscoe Divine or Bill Bowerman for coaching. He was trying to encourage this young woman, who he knew was gifted and talented, to use her gift. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Mary Slaney after Steve took an interest in her running future on a 1973 European track tour.
AnswerMary Slaney: Pre felt I was very talented. I think he was just very concerned about burnout. We got back in late August, and in September, he started calling me, just to check up on me. We became friends. He would call once a week and the first Nike shoes I ever got were from Pre. He sent me a box of all these prototype shoes. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:LAST EVENING If we look at that last evening, which was chronicled pretty well in ‘Fire on the Track’ and in Tom Jordan’s book, is there anything you’d like to clarify or share that wasn’t public?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: First, the police procedures, from what I was told, were not followed like they normally do. In one point in the investigation when we wanted to question the blood alcohol content they had come up with, the sample had disappeared, never to be found again. Also, the police don’t usually take the blood samples, but they did in this instance. I have a letter from the medical examiner about how things done that night weren’t done according to procedures. I’m grateful for most police officers and what they do as it’s a crappy job when some people want to kill you just because you have a police officer’s uniform. I don’t know how they do it, but thank God we do have people out there who are willing to do it. But there are corrupt police officers, ones who don’t follow rules and who cover their tracks. Do I have proof that’s what they did? No. But there are things that can’t be confirmed because information disappeared so it makes one wonder. I’ve heard some very ugly and nasty remarks like, ‘he deserved what he got – he got himself drunk and drove into a wall.’ What kind of heartless person would say that about anyone? (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:And back to the documented events after the party. Frank Shorter said that Steve drove his girlfriend and Frank, dropped his girlfriend off at her car, took Frank to Kenny Moore’s place, sat and talked and Frank didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about Steve’s behavior.
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: Correct. So why aren’t people listening to what Frank said? He was the last person to talk to Steve and they sat in the car out at Kenny Moore’s house for a while and they chatted. If Frank thought Steve was drunk, I can’t imagine that he would have let him drive down the hill. My parents were also with Steve until an hour before he drove. Now do you think my brother is going to get sloppy drunk in front of my parents, in front of his high school coach and in front of a bunch of other people? Really? Was my brother a saint? Absolutely not. Do I know he drank beer? Yes I do. Do I know he liked to have fun? Yes I do. Had I known for sure that he was drunk and was driving I would have felt the same because I still had lost my brother, but I would also say it was something he shouldn’t have done. You shouldn’t get drunk and get behind the wheel. But that’s not what happened. Unless someone was present at the party or in the car, they don’t know squat and they should keep their opinions to themselves as they don’t know what they are talking about. It’s also interesting now hearing comments from relatives of the couple that lived nearby - the husband found the car accident. The husband has died, but in an article before he died, he said that accident was going to haunt him for the rest of his life because he always thought there was another car involved. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:That’s a belief many people have had from the angle of the car’s path and other contributing factors. The only way we will ever know is if someone comes forward and says, ‘there is this horrible thing that I’ve never told before.’
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I had a person one time who was working as a plumber at my house and I hadn’t given him my last name. He was referred by someone as I needed something fixed at my house. When I wrote him the check, he looked at my name and said, ‘are you related?’ And I said, ‘yes I am,’ and I told him my name. Then he said, ‘I know what happened that night.’ He told me the person that was about his age went to his house at three in the morning and told him the story. Both of my parents were still alive and I begged him to come forward. I said, ‘do it for my parents. Do it for everyone, but especially for my parents.’ I wanted my parents to have the burden of the ugliness of what many people had to say about their son lifted. It killed them to have things said. I would have liked them to go to their graves knowing the truth, but it wasn’t going to happen. I even wrote the man letters and pleaded with him to come forward, but he didn’t want to cause this other person more grief in their life. I was telling him, ‘what kind ofgrief do you think my family went through?’ (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:It must have caused an unimaginable void and sense of loss after that.
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: It was horrible. It changed my family. It changed all of us. It was a nightmare. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:LEGACY Was there a time, maybe many years later, as more and more young runners were inspired by your brother that it helped somewhat to see this inspiration in others and that, though it didn’t diminish the loss, it gave you a good feeling that helped somewhat?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: Of course, it’s nice to know that many years later he is still remembered and still looked up to by people that appreciated what he did. That part is the nice part of it. If you would have asked me right afterwards if it helped, I would have said, ‘no.’ As I get older I think of things differently and a lot of the goodness of what he brought to himself and to the sport by being a good example of dreams, goals, work ethic and teaching lessons. That’s more now what I think about. He’s still changing people’s lives today, forty years later. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:If we look at the U.S. distance running heroes of the 1972 Olympics, Dave Wottle and Frank Shorter got gold medals, but Steve, with his untimely death, is doing more to inspire the youth of today and, probably, the youth of tomorrow than they do and it is interesting the way that played out.
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I think that has to do with his charisma and his personality and his willingness to allow people to get close to him. Dave Wottle seems like a nice guy and even in ‘Fire on the Track’ when he’s funny and is telling the story about how he and Steve were like oil and water. He was shy and married and running around with Mr. GQ and popular guy who had women throwing themselves at him. And Steve was just a more approachable guy than Frank. I think that my brother loved being around kids and he loved being a role model. Not everyone has that gift, and he did. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Bill Bowerman
AnswerPre was probably the most outspoken, honest and competitive man on and off the track that certainly I’ve ever known. His loss to our community and to Oregon track and to American track is one that is just very difficult to estimate. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Nick Rose on his first meeting with Pre at 1973 NCAA Outdoors
AnswerIt was a really hot day and I can remember I was sitting in the shade of the medical tent and Pre came up and started talking, which really freaked me out because I always sort of hero-worshiped him and looked up to him as a great runner. You put these guys on a pedestal and think they’ll never talk to you. But he really surprised me.’ (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Phil Knight
AnswerFor me the moral of Steve Prefontaine is fighting the good fight. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Todd Williams (talking about his running heroes)
AnswerPrefontaine was a guy I admired, and I read Tom Jordan’s book about him. It inspired me to want to break every one of his records (GaryCohenRunning interview, June, 2015)
GCR:Mac Wilkins
AnswerAfter the memorial service at Hayward Field I was sitting in the east stands fairly high up and I think I was the last to leave the stadium. I couldn’t. At the time I had a sense of loss because he was a guy that I kind of knew fairly well, but not that well, I don’t think anyone knew him that well. Now that I look back on it, it’s a worse sense of loss because I really feel like we had a lot in common. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Dick Buerkle
AnswerI guess what made me so sad is that he’s me. Maybe he’s cocky and I’m not so cocky. He’s different than me, but there’s more of him that’s like me than is not like me.’ The twenty mile runs on Sunday, the hard intervals, that stuff – we’re brothers that way. He always made the tempo sweet and made it tough for us and taught us a lot. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Brendan Foster
AnswerHe’s probably one of the bravest and eventually might have been the best. He’s probably the greatest runner America never had, because he never had his day. That’s the sad thing. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Todd Williams
AnswerThe main reason I looked up to Pre is mainly his work ethic and how he treated the sport. He pretty much treated each day like it was his last practice or last competition. I’ve tried to pattern myself similar to that. Pre’s strength was his strength, mentally and physically. Ninety-nine percent of his races, he would hammer. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Kip Keino
AnswerToday things have changed in track and field. And I hope if Steve was alive I hope he would have seen what has happened today. And he would have seen the fruit of what he was fighting for - for the athletes of this country and all over the world. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Mary Slaney
AnswerYou never know what path he would have taken. He was such a dynamic personality. You don’t know where he would have plugged himself into the sport, and how different our sport would be if he were still here. He had a way of getting people to take notice- not necessarily listen – but to take notice. I think I was fortunate to have gotten to know him that well in that short of a time. I just wish I had more time to know him than I did. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:Dave Bedford
AnswerThe fact that he died so young meant that we’re left with just a feeling of so much unfilled talent, so much unfilled promise, so much that could have happened. (from Fire on the Track)
GCR:Ed Palmer, 1973 FHSAA Florida 4A State Cross Country Champion
AnswerPre was a true 'American Idol' for distance running in every sense of the word! He pioneered a movement that helped our future runners to hopefully generate that same 'fire on the track' that Pre ignited! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO A TRUE LEGEND!!! Although he is no longer with us, his memory will NEVER DIE!!! (special to GaryCohenRunning, January, 2016)
GCR:Craig Virgin
AnswerI believe I first heard about Steve Prefontaine during my sophomore year of high school which is when I started to get really serious about distance running. He and Frank Shorter were probably my biggest running/racing role models coming up. I admired Steve for his fearless racing style and for his tough/committed training regimen. I broke several of his national records to include the National High School 2-mile record in 1973 and the National 10,000 meter record in 1979. I was four years behind Steve in school but did race against him in my first NCAA Cross Country Championships held in Spokane, WA in November 1973. Steve was still competing because he chose to redshirt the cross country season immediately after Munich. He ran down Nick Rose in an exciting finish that day while I raced far too conservative and only finished 10th. I met him in a pool hall in town later that day after the meet. I will never forget meeting him and wish I could have gotten to know him better. I was counting on racing him more seriously in the next 2-3 years which would have happened had he not perished in the car accident. I turned 60 back in August and he would have turned 65 today. I still can't believe those numbers and wonder how he could have handled getting older. Sometimes it sucks when a man has made a lifetime out of pushing his physical and mental limits so hard and then the body starts to betray him. Such is the life of an aging gunfighter. I thank Steve Prefontaine for the motivation and inspiration that he provided for me. I look forward to visiting with him in the next world. (special to GaryCohenRunning, January, 2016)
GCR:Tyler Pennell
AnswerSince high school, Steve Prefontaine has been an inspiration to me. While I never got to see him race, the stories and videos that are online depict someone who was fearless. Every time Pre stepped to the line, he gave everything he had. It didn't matter what distance, who was in the race, or where the race was, he gave 100%. That in itself is inspirational, something we can all look to emulate. He is a reminder that we can always give more, whether it is during a race or in life. (special to GaryCohenRunning, January, 2016)
GCR:Tom McCall, Governor of Oregon, in a typed letter
AnswerDear Mr. and Mrs. Prefontaine, Oregon has never been struck such a tragic blow. Pre was an essential part of the pride we all feel in Oregon. He was a magnificent performer and a human being of admirable independence. No one so young has ever made such an impact on our state, the nation, and the world – at least no one from this part of the country. Nor will we see his like again in my lifetime. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
Answer‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.’
GCR:Quote #2
Answer‘A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.’
GCR:Quote #3
Answer‘Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.’
GCR:Quote #4
Answer‘Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, 'I've never seen anyone run like that before.' It's more than just a race, it's a style. It's doing something better than anyone else. It's being creative.’
GCR:Quote #5
Answer‘Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.’
AnswerMark Feig (an Oregon teammate, talking about how Steve discussed the future): Steve was always talking about the future after running. They were always week maybe working for a friend in some business or the next week buying a lot of land and being a farmer. But one thing he said he’d do was win the gold medal in Montreal. (from ‘Pre’ by Tom Jordan)
GCR:I’m not sure when you became active on Facebook and social media, so how rewarding has it been to become a member of the regular online running community compared to what you might have expected?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I did not start until September of 2015. I did not want to be on social media. I had a Prefontaine business on the side when I was still working a regular job. When I really started the business a few years ago, social media wasn’t that big a deal. It has become the deal, the place to get your name out, and regular advertising wasn’t getting it done. It was either give it my all and give it a shot or get out. Also, I wanted to use Facebook as a place to be able to tell the truth about Steve because there is so much misinformation out there. It has given me a platform to do that. I have been very surprised at the great support from most of the people. There are a few wackos I’ve had to block as when you have a publicly known name there are some people that are attracted to that. There are mentally ill people who are attracted to famous people or famous names. Fortunately the good outweighs the bad. The great support I’m getting is wonderful. For all of these years not many people may have thought I had much to say. But I have lots to say that is important and will teach them about my brother that they aren’t going to find anywhere else. Surprisingly, I am getting remarks from people who love what I’m doing. For example, I didn’t know Gary Fanelli before, but he is an important runner in running history. A week ago he told me that he loves my posts about me, my parents and my brother. To me that was a great compliment from somebody who was from my brother’s generation in the running community and I’m saying things that he finds interesting and worth reading. I started a book fifteen years ago that I did’t finish and all of this support is motivating me to finish. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Someone posted the other day in my circle of Facebook friends how one day you can be an average runner, then you become Facebook friends with runners who are your heroes and that all of these iconic runners are very nice.
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: The people that I am connected with in the running community are very nice and very supportive. I tell my non-running friends that this group of Facebook people is so motivating. I ask my friends, ‘how many groups of people do you know that will go out when it’s below freezing, on a holiday, early in the morning, freeze their butt off, go run a 5k or 10k.come back and have smiles on their faces?’ (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Tom Fleming was one of Steve’s companions on a U.S. trip to Europe and Tom was telling me on Christmas morning he ran 14 miles, they did their Christmas celebration and then in the afternoon he ran another 14 miles. Then he felt so good about his day because he knew that all of the guys he was competing against didn’t do that much that day. And that was sort of the thought process in the early 1970s and I’m sure that Steve had the thoughts that he would just out train everybody.
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: Yes, yes – I think so much of what he did when he raced wasn’t about beating someone, but he knew how hard he trained, and it was about the clock. Of course he didn’t want to lose – that was a given. But really it was more about pushing himself against the clock because if he knew there was a certain time he could run then he knew he could win. His competition wouldn’t be able to do that so he would win. Does that make sense? (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:Yes it does. These days there may be eight or twelve runners in a final and three are definitely the best in the field. So, why don’t they just push the pace and then sort out the medals the final 200 meters instead of letting the other guys stay in the race? I think that’s what Steve would rather have done - let the best guys push the pace and sort out the medals at the end.
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I did an interview for an ESPN special, ‘The Coos Bay Connection,’ and in it I said how Steve hated when guys would just stay on his shoulder and then outkick him. He knew he didn’t have that kick so he tried to burn people in the middle of the race. Steve thought those runners were chickenshit. He didn’t appreciate that. He wanted everyone to get out there, run their butts off and may the best man win. He didn’t like that tactical stuff. I didn’t get to see him run the famous race with Hailu Ebba which many say was his best race ever. They were toe to toe on the back stretch and Steve was able to push him out from the inside of the track with his physical presence. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
GCR:As it is the 65th anniversary of Steve’s birth, is there anything that sums up his legacy or how he has stood the test of time and even eclipsed what he did in his life?
AnswerLinda Prefontaine: I think he would be humbled to know that there are so many people still who look up to him and that appreciate his contributions, his racing style, his ‘put it all out there’ when voicing his opinions about things that weren’t fair or equitable specifically to athletes. He was not afraid to say the right thing. When other people were afraid to speak out - that is where he had no filter. Forty years later, the example of his charisma and his honesty and his genuineness have kept his spirit alive this long. There have been many attempts by the media to hype up runners over the years as the ‘next Steve Prefontaine.’ There’s not going to be another one. His records have been broken. There are runners who are running better times and have accomplished more than what he did, but they don’t have his personality. They may be nice guys. Galen Rupp is a genuinely nice guy, but does he have my brother’s personality? No. He accomplished more. He has an Olympic Silver medal. That’s one more accomplishment than what my brother pulled off, but he doesn’t have that ‘It factor.’ There won’t be another Elvis Presley, another Steve Prefontaine, another Beatles, another Muhammad Ali. It just doesn’t happen. The media and public are hoping, but it isn’t going to happen. (Gary Cohen phone interview with Linda Prefontaine 1/19/2016)
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsHe was great with woodworking as my father was a carpenter. Steve knew how to build things. He built his own sauna. He built a makeshift dark room as he was getting into photography. He took his own pictures and developed his own pictures. He was self-sufficient and driven. I think he would be doing many different things as one thing would bore the heck out of him. He would have had his hands in many different pots and would have had the energy to accomplish many different things
Childhood nicknamesThe nickname we both grew up with was ‘Pre.’ We were both called ‘Pre.’ Actually, he was ‘Big Pre’ and I was ‘Little Pre.’ That started in grade school. He would no doubt still be called that as I am by the people we grew up with in Coos Bay. He was called a few nicknames by fellow students that I can’t repeat because he was a practical joker and pulled quite a few pranks on people
Favorite TV showsTV was different back then as we had a black and white television and a few channels rather than several hundred. There was only one TV in the house and we had to share so when our parents were home we watched what they wanted to watch. We like to watch cartoons when we were young like most other kids. We liked ‘Sea Hunt’ and ‘Sky King.’ We watched army shows where U.S. soldiers were fighting German soldiers and the funny thing was we had a German mother who didn’t think it was so funny. I liked horse shows like ‘My Friend, Flicka’ and ‘Rin Tin Tin’ and I’m positive we watched them together
Favorite musicWhen we were growing up, of course, everybody loved The Beatles back then. Who didn’t, of our generation, love The Beatles? Tyson has been quoted as saying Steve loved bubblegum music and he did. He wasn’t into hard rock. After the accident the police were saying that Steve might have been changing a John Denver ‘Back Home Again’ tape in his car and gotten distracted. That’s not true because they found that empty cassette and the tape was in another car that I ended up with. There was a shoebox of tapes and I didn’t even know until I pulled it out that in the box was the John Denver ‘Back Home Again’ tape
Favorite booksHere’s a guy in high school who was holding down three part-time jobs, going to school, running twice a day, has a girlfriend and doing homework – so he didn’t do much reading that I remember outside of school assignments. I’m sure he read all the required classics, but he never talked about any of them being his favorites
Early carsHe had several cars and he like to work on them. That’s when it was a big deal for guys to have a ’56 or ’57 Chevy. And then when the first mustangs came out. He had one of those Chevys, though I can’t remember if it was a ’56 or ’57. He had at one time a baby blue Ford Fairlane. In high school it was a big deal for a guy to have his own car and to have it looking pretty and he did all of that. He worked on them and fixed them up. Then he joined other guys in town in ‘running the gut,’ in Coos Bay, which was cruising the street to show off his car. The guys in Coos Bay, like in other towns, took their girlfriend or friends and cruised from this one end of the strip at a burger place to the turnaround at other end a couple miles down the road where there was an A and W Root Beer stand. You would just keep making these loops
First JobsHe worked sometimes at a gas station that was down the street, I think it was a ‘Flying A’ station. He worked at an insurance company. I think his role was to go around and take pictures of houses and property of people who were going to be insured. He was not in training to be an insurance agent. He also was a life guard at school and that wasn’t all year long
Birthday memoriesHis birthday was in January, so it wasn’t an outdoor event. My mother would always make a big deal and make cakes. I remember him having friends from outside of the family over when he was young, but not in high school. There were family gatherings that were pretty large with my mom’s sister and husband and son and our family and sometime elderly neighbors were invited over. We celebrated birthdays in the family with cake and ice cream and presents and dinner. We typically did not go out to dinner as back then it wasn’t something my parents could necessarily afford. We did things and celebrated at home. In Coos Bay there were only 15,000 residents, so there weren’t many restaurants anyway
Memorable Halloween costumesWhen we were young my mom used to make our costumes. Our mom was a seamstress who worked for a department store for thirty years in a windowless upstairs room that housed six or seven women. She made outfits for her and my dad when they went out to the Elks or Eagles clubs for parties at Halloween or New Year’s. So she made our Halloween outfits when we were younger. One year when we were very young Steve was a genie and I was a belly dancer. One year I was a cat and, it’s hard to remember, but maybe he was a dog. This was when we were on the younger side of grade school. We were little kids and happy to get all of that candy. Then we got older and he went with his friends while I went with my friends and it was different
Christmas memoriesBack then we might get one big present and a few little ones. Either my mom or dad made our Christmas stockings out of red felt and they were put on the fireplace. They were filled up mostly with candy. The Christmas I remember most is when we both got real roller skates – not the kind that went over your shoes with a key to tighten them up and they never stayed tight. Steve was very coordinated at everything. It was a big deal to have your own roller skates and they both came in these big carrying cases with our names on the outside of the cases. We used to go roller skating several times a week. We used to get in trouble at the rink because we were screwing off and going faster than we were supposed to go. We skated forwards and backwards. We jumped and made turns in the air. That was one of the more memorable Christmas times and was so much fun to go as often as we did
PetsWhen we were under the age of five we had a dog named Bingo who was a Cocker Spaniel. We lived a block away from the grade school and then when we were older we lived a block away from the junior high and high school because our mom never learned to drive and we had to live close to school and to her work. It was great because we didn’t have to take the bus to school, but unfortunately it was on a busy street and wasn’t a dog-friendly place. So we ended up having cats. When Steve went off to college it wasn’t until he was living in the trailer with Tyson, I think in 1972 that he got Lobo, who I think was a German Shepherd and Doberman mix,. He got Lobo from people who lived in the trailer park and their dog had puppies. After Steve died I took Lobo and had him until he died
Childhood mealsMy mother was German, directly from Germany, so we ate a lot of German food. When you’re younger it wasn’t your favorite. And our mother cooked the heck out of everything – maybe back in the war you had to just for safety. We grew up with one dish that I really grew to like and I think Steve did too – a red cabbage dish called ‘rotkohl.’ It’s a warm dish. A lot of the food was fried – fried potatoes, fried meat. The foods were fattening and greasy when we were growing up. One thing I can say for sure is that Steve loved chocolate chip cookies
Adult mealsAs Steve became more serious about his running; he became more particular about what he put in his body. He started watching what he ate. There is a restaurant in Eugene that for many years now is called the ‘Oregon Electric Station’ that was an empty building and Steve’s intention was to turn that building back then into a bar called ‘Sub-Four.’ He was going to focus on salads as he ate lots of healthy salads. Steve was going to have beer, salads and whatever else
First running memoryThere is a quote in the journal I created that says this from his high school coach: ‘Steve’s choice to become a runner stems from his frustrating experience as a junior high school football player. Small in stature, Steve had few opportunities to play in games. No alternative seemed available to him to release his competitive spirit. Oh, he did notice the high school runners crossing the practice field, but this appeared unrealistic. Steve later reflected, ‘What kind of a crazy nut would spend two or three hours a day running? I’ll never do that.’ I’m sure that Steve didn’t use the term ‘crazy nut.’ I’m sure he used something a little stronger than that
Running heroesJim Ryun was kind of the guy back then and Steve certainly looked up to Jim Ryun. I don’t remember Steve talking about great runners and how he wanted to run like them. He didn’t talk to me about runners he may have admired. It was more him talking about his goals. He would put up times on his bedroom wall that he wanted to run or a sign to beat Doug Crooks. It wasn’t about looking to someone else, but was more about looking within himself and running against himself
False lore about SteveThere is one that he had one leg that was shorter than the other. I want to know who made that up. In my entire life until it came out in one of the movies I hadn’t ever, ever heard of that. There was never a conversation around the dinner table about it – and we ate together – that we needed to go to the doctor because Steve had one leg shorter than the other. When you’re I sports in high school and at your physical one leg was shorter than the other they would have been making an adjustment in his shoe. That did not happen! It’s a myth that started possibly because he had sciatica and went to a chiropractor and maybe that’s how it was started
Greatest running momentsThere were so many. Breaking the four minute mile was huge. Being able to go to the Olympics was also a dream and was enormous. When he qualified at the 1972 Olympic Trials it was huge
Worst running momentIf we’re going to talk about disappointment in races there are two I think of that were huge. First, Steve’s sophomore year in high school when he didn’t qualify for the state track meet. That really ticked him off and really got to him. That’s when he decided in his mind – he came back after that summer and told his coaches, ‘I’m not going to lose another race.’ The coaches were wondering what he was doing all summer. The fact was he was working his butt off all summer and he never lost another race in high school. The other one that was so disappointing was when he came in fourth in the Olympics. How could that not be disappointing? I think it really set him back as he was disappointed, not only for himself, but there were so many people supporting him that he felt like he let people down. Just like that time when he didn’t qualify for the state meet, what happened in 1972 was going to tick him off and I think he would have done whatever he could have done to have a different outcome in 1976. He came in fourth, but he came in a ‘clean’ fourth, if you know what I mean. He did talk about European blood doping back then. I’m not so sure which competitors who won medals can say that?
First girlfriendIn high school the first girl that he was really in love with, and I really liked her, was Elaine Findley and she was from Cook Hill. They were in the same class. They used to include me in some of their dates – driving around a little sister - that’s pretty cool. His freshman year she moved up to Springfield. She was one of the traditional kinds of girls who wanted to go to school, find a guy, go to work, get married, have children and raise a family. Unfortunately, that was too soon for what he wanted to accomplish and they ended up splitting ways. He went off and had other girlfriends and she went off and got married. But then several years later just before he died they got back together again
Popularity with WomenThere were always women in his life. When you’re good looking and you’re popular and you’re talented, people flock to you. And girls flocked to him. I doubt he turned too many away. If you were a serious girlfriend you had to pass my test and my parents’ test and then you were invited into the home. If you were not one of those girlfriends, then you were just a girl. A lot of them had other ideas in their heads, but if he didn’t bring you home to meet the family, you were not that girl
Funny memoriesHe tended to be a little accident prone. He almost got his fingers chopped off at Boy Scout camp because he was standing too close behind the guy who was wielding the ax. We were playing in the sand dunes at a family picnic and were at the top of this huge dune and there were trees up there that had no bark on them and no limbs as they were so weathered from the wind and the sand – they were bare except they had these nubbins that stuck up. He stepped on one of the nubbins and it broke off inside of his foot. He cut his fingers one time when my parents were out on a Saturday night with friends and we were home. This was in high school. He was screwing off and had his fingers inside of a Coke can. He yanked them out real fast and he cut his fingers open – one finger in particular. He ran to the kitchen real fast because he didn’t want to get any blood on the carpet. My parents would have been ticked that he got blood on the carpet - not that he cut the crap out of his finger. So he put his fingers inside of his mouth and ran to the kitchen sink. I was running in there with him. Blood was shooting out of his fingers and he was spitting blood into the sink. He made noises like it was making him sick. Then he puts his hand up in my face and says, ‘Here, you suck on them.’ I said, ‘I’m not sucking on your fingers!’ But, like a good sister, I took a towel, wrapped it up, did the squeeze, and did the squeeze for a long time until it stopped bleeding. I don’t know if it was reckless abandon, but then sticking your fingers inside of a Coke can isn’t too bright
Off-beat brother-sister stuffWe used to play some games that were weird with a knife. We played ‘Stretch’ where you would get a knife, stand face to face and throw that knife into the ground next to the other person and you’d see how far you could make them stretch to where the knife was. In the other version, called ‘chicken,’ we would throw the knife close to the other person’s foot and you couldn’t jump or obviously you were chicken. That’s Coos Bay-ish
Personal characteristicsMy brother was intense. He was an intense guy. All of his classmates would tell you the same thing, although he was also a screw off when it was time to play. He was a practical joker and was always pulling pranks. He picked on me all of the time when we were kids. He always had that practical joker side to him, so if he wasn’t pulling pranks on you, he probably didn’t think you were much fun. He was always doing that to his friends and to me. He had a great sense of humor
Childhood dreamsAt one point in time for a career he wanted to be an architect. When he got into college math was always a bit of a struggle. He changed his major to radio and television communications and no doubt would have made a good announcer. He would have at least added some flair to that job