The Pre Chronicles — Part 17, ’75 Indoors

HERE, IN THE 17th chapter of a long multi-part series, is how we reported the last indoor season of Steve Prefontaine’s career. We have taken the liberty of doing some stylistic updatings to mirror our modern protocol and also added an editorial comment or three.

Coach Bill Dellinger said he and Pre had discussed joining the ITA, but, “Personally, I don’t think Pre will turn pro at this point. He still has several things to prove to himself, if no one else, regarding competition coming up in 1976.” (JEFF JOHNSON)

January 1975: World & U.S. Rankings For ’74
[Ed: Pre again dropped a notch in the World 5000 ratings, earning No. 5, but after 3 straight No. 1s, fell to No. 2 American behind Dick Buerkle. In the 1500 he failed to make the Top 10 Americans. In the 10,000 he earned his first-ever World Ranking, No. 10, but lost his spot as top American to Frank Shorter.]

February 1975: Pre Scares His 2M Record
Los Angeles, California, January 18—…Steve Prefontaine, who still admits to not being in the best of shape and not training overly hard, gave his own American Record in the 2M a good scare [at the Sunkist Invitational]. Fighting off a pressing John Ngeno in the early going, Pre surged through blazing 61.0, 2:04.4, 3:07.1 and 4:09.8 splits.

Keeping the pressure on, he was ahead of his own pace during his 8:20.4 at San Diego with 5:12.0, 6:15.7 and 7:20.4 increments, versus 5:14, 6:17 and 7:21.2. But the lack of conditioning betrayed him in the last quarter, as he looked tired in mustering a 64.0. Still, his 8:24.4 is the No. 7 indoor time in world history. “I’ll start to work harder now,” he ventured, “and I should run under 8:20 this year.” /Garry Hill/

February 1975: Pre Wanted A Rabbit
Portland, Oregon, January 25—… A crowd of 7933 was on hand [at the Oregon Invitational], undoubtedly many of them “Pre’s People.” They saw their hero make a game attempt at a World Record for 2M. “I’ve been fighting a bad cold, but I came here pretty excited,” he said. “I was a little disappointed because they didn’t have a pacesetter for me. I lost my motivation when I found out I was going to have to do it all by myself again. I didn’t feel that good and I just decided to run to win.”

Still, he chugged along to a most creditable 8:27.0 clocking, his 12th career sub-8:30 and sixth straight win in this meet. It was his slowest clocking in this meet since ’71, but only 7 Americans have ever run faster. /Don Jacobs/

February 1975: Pre 5th In Great Bayi-Walker Mile Duel
Inglewood, California, February 07—Anticipation. Waiting. The proverbial sense of excitement was in the air. Events came and went, class events, and they generally got their fair share of response. But everybody’s favorite event, the mile, was why a capacity crowd of 16,400 was on hand. Was why they were literally sitting on the edges of their seats all night. The centerpiece of this year’s edition of the always-fine LA Times affair was the 11-lap clash of the year to date.

Assiduous promoter Will Kern had pulled in a fine field from divergent points on the globe in formulating his highlight event. Little matter that one of the principles had never raced on the boards before, that another had done so only once, and a third had only four outings. When you are speaking of stars the like of Rod Dixon, Filbert Bayi and John Walker, who cares whether they are used to a roof over their head?

Toss in veteran Byron Dyce, a wily indoor campaigner who probably has as many board races under his belt as the rest of the field combined, and everybody’s favorite, Steve Prefontaine, and the stage was set…

A 5-man field of top-notchers. No need for a rabbit in this race—any race in which Filbert Bayi runs. You know he is going to go out fast, fast, fast. Well, maybe.

Fair Filbert, as expected, breaks on top, but isn’t really running away with anything, as Pre, Walker, Dixon and Dyce string in close formation. As they complete the first 160y circuit, Pre ducks by the Tanzanian flash, but opens no gap. That incredible stride of Bayi’s, so silky smooth, has him effortlessly floating along behind Pre. In comparison, the Oregonian seems to be almost struggling, running with his head cocked and shorter, choppier strides. Perhaps he is struggling already. Bothered by a bad back again (“I sure hope it isn’t a return of my sciatica, but it is the same side.”), Pre isn’t too optimistic in prerace discussions. But Pre always gives his best.

The status quo is maintained through the first (Pre 61.6, Bayi 61.9, Walker 62.7) and second quarters (Pre 2:02.3, Bayi 2:02.3, Walker 2:02.9). Then Bayi moves by. Walker follows shortly thereafter, although there is no significant break.

All the while, the crowd’s pitch and volume increase. Louder and louder, merging into a continuous din. Excitement is reaching a fever pitch.

On the ninth lap, Pre makes one small rush at the leaders, but it seems fairly obvious that he hasn’t much left, and it is only a question of time before Dixon and Dyce run him down, although all 5 are still in a tight file.

At the three-quarter post, Bayi and Walker are virtually even with 3:02.6 splits, Pre two ticks behind. With two laps remaining Walker seems almost to be chomping at the bit, looking strong and wanting to make the big move. But not being quite able to summon what is needed to go by in tight quarters. He runs most of the last two laps almost in the second lane.

Bayi’s margin is a 10th on Walker at the 1500m mark, and although the Tanzanian never seems to really increase his speed (yet, curiously enough, it may seem that Walker does), he stretches the margin by two more at the tape, clocking 3:59.6 to Walker’s 3:59.9. Dixon, showing remarkable aplomb for his first time on the boards, and still recovering from surgery, finishes well with 4:01.1, shading Dyce’s 4:01.3. The tired Pre brings up the rear at 4:03.4 “I’m sick. I’m sick,” he says the next day. “I’ve gotta go back home and get well.” /Garry Hill/

February 1975: U.S. Scene
The ITA has been making one of its biggest pushes this season to sign Steve Prefontaine. Some times he appears close to signing, other times far away. Oregon coach Bill Dellinger said in late January that he doubted that Pre would sign. “We’ve had several long talks about it,” said Dellinger. “Personally, I don’t think Pre will turn pro at this point. He still has several things to prove to himself, if no one else, regarding competition coming up in 1976.”

February 1975: Letters To The Editor
THOSE 2 LETTERS by the Englishmen [December] perturb me greatly. Pre is the greatest American distance runner ever, and would destroy any competition—Foster included—at any distance at Eugene in May. When Pre gets in front of his people, something mystical happens… Pre is unbeatable in Eugene at any distance above a mile, no matter who he races. If only the Olympics were in Eugene.
Greg Haertl—Portland, Oregon

SINCE THE AAU will be held in Eugene in ‘75 I have a proposal to make to the AAU (Indianapolis, can you hear me?). Invite the top 5000 runners in the world to Eugene. Then maybe the world will know whether or not Prefontaine is unbeatable in Eugene. I would love to come to Eugene to see this.
Paul Merca—Seattle, Washington

I’D LIKE TO SEE Emiel Puttemans, Brendan Foster—or any other—come to Eugene and challenge Pre to a race. Along with Pre’s “grossly overrated” fans and his determination to win I’m sure he’d give the Europeans a run for their money.
Karen D.—Eugene, Oregon

March 1975: Pre Unleashes Big Kick In 2M
San Diego, California, February 15—…Directly preceding [the San Diego Games’ highlight mile with Filbert Bayi & John Walker] had been always dependable Steve Prefontaine in a 2M hookup with John Ngeno. You know Pre is always going to give you his best, come hell or high-water. Add a track that is always conducive to fast 2Ms—Pre set an American Record here last year—and a good race was assured.

It happened. Pre cruised along, always in sight of his record pace of last year, drawing even at 1¼M (5:14.0, after a 4:11.0 mile). But still uncertain of his shape, he let Ngeno forge ahead with a little more than a quarter to go. The Kenyan had turned down early offers by Pre to take some of the pacing load. Now he went ahead.

But with a little more than a lap remaining, Pre awoke. Pulling out a Yifter-like sprint, he left Ngeno, never known for his kick, standing. Still pouring it on as he reached the tape in 8:24.4, he continued on a victory lap that was probably almost as fast as his penultimate circuit of the race proper.
“I really misjudged myself,” he said. “I could have run the last 600y at that pace. I felt very, very strong the last 300—very powerful, like my old self. I wanted to make my last race of the indoor season a good one and that’s what I did. I just wanted to run a good race.” /Garry Hill/

March 1975: U.S. Scene
Steve Prefontaine didn’t want it to seem like he was putting down Francie Larrieu (or women in general) after the PCC flash had set her world 1500/mile records at San Diego, but he did put an interesting perspective on the vast differences between men’s and women’s performances. “I admire her tremendously,” he said, “and I wish I could match her dedication. But the fact is, her 4:29 was a World Record for women and I can run six 4:29s in a row.”

March 1975: Letters To The Editor
I MUST ADMIT that I was quite shocked by your 10,000 Rankings in the Annual Edition. How can you rate Steve Prefontaine, who has the fastest time of the year, No. 10?
Dave Archer—Turner, Oregon

REGARDING YOUR 10,000 Rankings, I think it is really absurd to rank Pre No. 10. Pre and Tayler both ran only one race all year. Pre’s time was the fastest of all in a race in which he was pacing himself in less than perfect weather conditions. Tayler was running against good competition, which obviously helped his time. Also, you overrated the Commonwealth Games. Besides, Pre could beat Ngeno anytime, anywhere, under any conditions, at any distance, anyhow.
Al Abusaidi—Eugene, Oregon

THIS ADULATION OF Steve Prefontaine in your letters column is getting me sick. Five fan letters in one issue! Isn’t that a bit much? Let us concede to reader Haertl [February] that Pre is unbeatable in Eugene in May. So what? Meets of international significance are not held in Eugene in May. It happens that in top-level world-class competition Prefontaine has proven himself to be a respectable—but far from invincible—runner. Can’t we just let it go at that?
Dick L. Apirra—New York, New York

March 1975: Selector Defends Distance Rankings
I AM HAPPY to see that some readers have taken Don Potts and I [Roberto L. Quercetani] to task for our selections for the 1974 World Rankings…

As you should know, every candidate is carefully weighed against the opposition on three criteria: 1. Honors won; 2. won/loss record; 3. Sequence of marks. However, there are cases in which lack of evidence (especially in non-Olympic years) and/or contradictory results can make a choice extremely difficult, to the point where we could reverse it time and again and still remain unsatisfied.

It is true that we are against overrating the value of a single mark, no matter how superlative. Like all human rules, this one too has its exceptions—that is when the mark was made in a competition of the highest international caliber (e.g. the Olympics and, for some events, the Commonwealth Games, the European Championships and, why not, the AAU meet)…

In ’74, Steve Prefontaine also had one race at the distance, with the year’s fastest time. But whom did he beat? Some Oregon runners, none of whom could be found at year’s end among the 60-70 best in a combined 6M/10,000 World List. That 10th place we gave him, tantamount to an honorary mention, may be grossly inadequate to his true value as a 10,000m man, but we had nothing to go by for a higher ranking, in terms of competition or honors won.

Previously in the Pre Chronicles…

Part 1: The High School Years

Part 2: The Frosh Year At Oregon

Part 3: The Soph Year At Oregon

Part 4: The Junior Year At Oregon, XC & Indoors

Part 5: “What I’d Like To Do,” by Kenny Moore

Part 6: The Junior Year At Oregon, Outdoors

Part 7: Summer ’72, The Olympic Campaign

Part 8: Letters To The Editor

Part 9: Senior Year First 3 Months

Part 10: Senior Year, “What’s In Store?”

Part 11: His Senior Outdoor Campaign

Part 12: The Summer Of ’73

Part 13: The Final XC Races For Oregon

Part 14: The ’74 Indoor Season

Part 15: The ’74 Outdoor Season

Part 16: Pre’s Summer Odyssey