HERE, IN THE TENTH chapter of a long multi-part series on the career of Steve Prefontaine as it appeared in our pages at the time is an unbylined feature that bridged the March and April months of his senior year at Oregon. We have taken the liberty of doing some stylistic updatings to mirror our modern protocol.
I April 1973: What’s In Store For Steve Prefontaine?
And how’s Steve Prefontaine these days, some 6 months after his 4th-place finish in the Munich 5000 final?
Following his first six tests of ’73 after a non-season of cross country running, it would appear that little has significantly changed about the Oregon phenom who repeatedly churned out superlative times last year.
He says the sting of not winning a medal at Munich has worn off. But just how much and what type of effects the entire experience—from his initial cockiness stimulated by his fast early-’72 times, the aftermath of the Israeli incident in the Village before the 5000 final, the slowish pace that played into the hands of the kickers in the race that counted, and Steve’s own sourness over the elbow jostling during that Munich event—will bear on his future is still a bit cloudy.
His recent races including an 8:27.4 indoor opener, a home-state 8:24.6 American Record to become the then-3rd fastest undercover, a 3:59.2 speed test around yet another 11-lap board track, and an unpushed U.S. outdoor 6M standard-snipper of 27:09.4—suggest all the physical potential capability for heralded performances is there. But what he intends to do with it all is another matter.
Take the 6M race, for example. After complaining about an autumn of “all kinds of problems—I’ve had tendinitis in my knee and ankle and now a muscle pull in my calf”—he came to Bakersfield wanting to run a mile during the traditional Spring Break meet. But newly appointed head coach Bill Dellinger wanted him to run a 6M—”to cruise around in 28:00 for kind of a workout”, as Pre puts it. “I was supposed to follow a 70-second pace, and pick it up to 13:48 for 3M.
“Well, I was on pace, but I felt so good I picked it up. Bill told me if it got too hot to ease off and at 2M, I started getting blisters on both feet. But I still felt fine.” In a race basically scheduled as a 3M, he continued on in a virtual solo effort and blasted the final mile in 4:22.4 and the last quarter in 60.4—some 2:00 ahead of 2nd-place for the record.
“Really. I had no intention of running for a record,” confirms the barrel-chested 5-9/150 senior. Perhaps it was partly the result of a memory of a similar experience here last year, when he ran his first-ever 6M in a surprising and encouraging 27:22.4. Then, too, he confirms that he gets turned on to people imploring him onward. “I just don’t go out there and run. I like to give the people watching something exciting.” And therein may lie the key.
It becomes obvious to anyone who has observed Steve in the past two years that he responds most favorably to the “Go Pre” mania and has performed his best feats in Eugene proper or in other friendly stadiums where his supporters will go bananas even as he jogs his warmup.
“This is my last year at Oregon, and it means a lot to me. The people have been great to me there, so if I have to run three races to win the Pac-8 team title I’ll do it. Oh, sure, I’ll probably be tired but the people shouting will carry me across the finish line.” The Pac-8 championship meet just happens to be in Eugene, Oregon, in ’73.
So talk of goals at other races is of secondary importance. “I still feel I can run something close to 26:40 [which would be a World Record for 6M] but that kind of race puts you in bed for a week so I’ll be concentrating on the mile and 2M this year.”
So, how fast can he run a mile, one might wonder. And that brings another non-specific reply but reveals another aspect of his attitude toward running and perhaps his need for “his people”: “I know I’ll run faster than 3:56.7, but it’s hard to run the kind of race that 3:52 requires. Especially when I have to run out in front. I’d like to get in a race where somebody else does some of the work at the start. Then we’ll see what I can do.
“I’m basically tired of doing all the work. I set the pace in almost every race I ran last year. That means I never get a chance to use my speed. I’d like a chance to sit back in the pack. I know I have more speed than people realize but I’ve never had a chance to show it.” Give Steve his near-perfect setting—a hotly paced race set up by others and a raft of Premania to support him—and the cap is liable to come off the volatile, emotion-charged Pre.
It may take another kind of incentive to really excite Steve in the future:
“I’m living on $105 a month. To continue running after I graduate, I’m going to have to get a job that isn’t the regular 8-hour-a-day type. I don’t want everything given to me but I can’t do hard work and training together.
And he’s not only found that Munich didn’t bring him everything he expected, but he’s also discouraged by the NCAA and AAU and television interruptions.
With regard to the NCAA Championships this June: “I understand that preliminaries will be held in the evenings but the finals are scheduled at 3:00 in the afternoon to accommodate TV. I will only run one race there, because the meet is being held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It appears to me the members of the selecting committee pick these sites because they are thinking about a vacation rather than track. It’s too hot there to run two races.”
But he’s equally disenchanted with the AAU. He said he plans to spend most of the coming summer in Europe. “But it won’t be as part of one of the AAU tours. The AAU just uses athletes. I’ve had enough of that. I want to have some fun as well as good competition.”
And Montréal? “That’s three years away. The Munich Olympics were not a high-class event. The conditions were bad.”
Well, then, what about the ITA pro circuit as a viable alternative? He admitted to a casual interest in the venture, expressed hope that it will succeed, and that he could possibly see a future for himself as a pro in two or three years. “I would be interested in it for the right offer, but so far there doesn’t seem to be enough money. It will take more than $25,000 to buy my amateurism. I know I have to get more than what they’re giving Keino.”
If, when, and/or as “Premania” spreads, the maniacal achievements of Steve Prefontaine may be fully realized, and against the best fields of invitational races or the championships of the NCAA, AAU and Olympic Games, wherever they may be staged.
Previously in the Pre Chronicles…