HERE, IN THE penultimate chapter of a long multi-part series, is how we reported the last stages of Steve Prefontaine’s career, leading into his final race. We have taken the liberty of doing some stylistic updatings to mirror our modern protocol and also added an editorial comment or three.
April 1975: T&FN Interview—Frank Shorter
T&FN: A little word association here. If I were to say Steve Prefontaine, what do you think of?
Shorter: He’s a good friend. I like to think of myself as a fairly gregarious person, and I like to think that I get along pretty well with the rest of the runners, and I get along with him, probably better than the others. I know that there is kind of an Oregon cult up in Eugene now, where they stick pins in Steve in the morning when they get up, and I can’t see how they can be like that.
Now maybe if I lived around him and had to train with him every day, it would be different; OK, maybe he’s a little cocky, but I would be too if I could run the way he does in the races he does.
In a way, I wish he could just get it all together sometime and go to Europe and run 13:10; I’d love to see him go to the World Games and just say “OK, there’s nobody else on the track, Frank, just give me my splits,” and then run his little buns off. And forget that someone might be on his tail to outkick him, because I think that’s what bothers him when he goes to Europe is that he thinks that there’s a new Kvalheim…
T&FN: But he’s run a 3:55 mile.
Shorter:Right, I think if he had had Marty Liquori on his shoulder instead of me, I think he would have lost. I say that, he’s a great friend of mine, but that’s one thing he’s got to get over. Because I wasn’t sitting there in the 12:52 race saying, “He’s a 3:55 miler, I’ve run 4:02, I’m not going to win;” I tried to win, I almost did… I think that if he can get over that… /Tom Jordan/
April 1975: Letters To The Editor
I WAS STRUCK by Pre’s remark [March letters] that he didn’t want to put down Francie Larrieu—and then immediately doing it. I’m glad to see this elitist attitude is disappearing from your editorial format. Writers in past issues have observed that meets were boring because of Masters and Women’s events. Your broadening coverage of these aspects of track is encouraging. Perhaps you, like Pre, realize that human competitive achievement is not an absolute value, that man sets up limited difficulties for himself for the joyousness of overcoming them. Did Pre ever stop to think Larrieu can run faster at her chosen distance than any other member of her own sex in creation? Can he say the same?
David T. Elder—Birmingham, Alabama
MY FLEET-FOOTED SONS and their burned out (retired) father enjoy your outstanding publication. But we are consistently bewildered by your consistent failure to publish a complete key to numerous abbreviations in stories and stats. While T&FN’s ill-disguised love affair with Pre is excusable for its amusing innocuousness, the magazine’s self-inflicted communications gap is another thing.
Jerry Fenn—Brattleboro, Vermont
ONCE AGAIN the continent’s premier distanceman, Steve Prefontaine, was absent from the Toronto indoor 3M. I’m disappointed. I’ve heard of extensive wheeling and dealing between persistent meet directors and top-class athletes. Is Pre’s price too high, or is he simply chicken?
Bill Marcotte—Toronto, Ontario
May 1975: T&FN Interview—Brendan Foster
T&FN: There has been a lot of correspondence about Steve Prefontaine in Track & Field News, with people saying, “Let Foster & Co. come and run against Pre at Eugene in May.” What do you think about that?
Foster: Yes, I’d love to run against him. A lot of my clubmates at Gateshead read T&FN avidly, and because of that, and because Pre is always getting big writeups in the magazine when he breaks records, the lads rate him very highly. And for that reason I’d derive a lot of satisfaction out of beating him. I’ve only run one race against him, at the Coca-Cola meeting in London last September [a 2M in which Pre dropped out]. I’d like to go across to America and run against him there. He’s no way as good as Stewart or Bedford or Black.
T&FN: Even at Eugene?
Foster: Some people can run very well when they’ve got no opposition. He might be that sort of bloke. /Cliff Temple/
May 1975 Last Lap: Pre—“I’m Not Unpatriotic”
Steve Prefontaine has stirred the waves of controversy again. “To hell with love of country. I compete for myself,” he said in a Denver interview carried by the Associated Press in late March. Pre, who had been training at high altitude with Frank Shorter for a month, went on to blast the American amateur athletics setup.
“I’ll tell you, if I decide to compete at Montréal, to make all the sacrifices necessary, I’ll be a poor man. If you’re not a millionaire, there’s no way.”
Pre returned to Eugene and, perhaps cooled by the familiar Oregon rains, explained his statements.
“I said those things,” he admitted in a Eugene Register-Guard story. “But not in the context they came out in the wire stories… The way the wire services carried the story didn’t make the distinction between my frustration as an athlete and my feeling for my country in general. I don’t consider myself unpatriotic.”
Pre feels there will be a large exodus of American track athletes to the pros after the Montréal Olympics. He has rejected pro track offers, so far, (including a recent “big one”) though he says he plans to consider them again after Montreal.
“We need to set up national training camps supported by big business and other interested groups,” he concluded. “We’re too pro-oriented in this country, and nothing is done for the amateur athlete after he gets out of college. I think we’ll see in Montreal that we’re falling further and further behind the European countries.”
May 1975 Last Lap: The Finns Are Coming
It looks as if Steve Prefontaine will get a chance to meet some Europeans in Eugene in the prime of his season.
Pre has helped arrange a tour to the U.S. by several top Finnish athletes, including double Olympic champ Lasse Viren. The Finnish Track Federation has approved the trip and now only AAU approval is required.
Eight Finns are scheduled to make the trip to the Pacific Northwest and compete in meets in Oregon: Madras, May 4; Coos Bay (Pre’s hometown), May 9 and Eugene, May 29—Tacoma, Wash., May 21 and a fifth meet in either Portland, Oregon, Vancouver, B.C. or Northern California.
June 1975: Pre Getting Ready
Eugene, Oregon, April 26—Mother Nature didn’t come through like last year, but Steve Prefontaine nearly did at the Oregon Twilight meet.
Pre, who set American Records and eventually the fastest marks of ‘74 at both 6M and 10,000m, had to fight cold, raw weather and biting winds yet he still clocked 27:18.6 and 28:09.4 for the distances. The former is the sixth-fastest ever by an American, the latter No. 5.
And considering the weather, Pre was downright pleased with his efforts. Asked an hour before the race how fast he would like to run, Pre replied, “I’m sure not going to bust my ass in this crappy weather.” Despite that admonition, Pre was on World Record pace for at least the first 11 laps and close through 4M.
Dave Taylor played rabbit from the gun and after just a lap, Jon Anderson was already 6y back. By the mile (4:29), Anderson was 25y behind, Taylor had dropped out and Pre was on his own. He methodically churned out the laps around 69 seconds on the average to pass 2M in 8:54 (4:26) and 3 in 13:25 (4:31).
The partisan crowd of about 5000 cheered their hero every lap, but even that couldn’t overcome the effects of the weather. “After 2M, the wind really got to me,” Pre said afterward. “My shoulders tightened up and my stomach bothered me from breathing all that cold air. My lower body felt fine, but I couldn’t relax.”
The fourth mile took 4:35 and the fifth in 4:40 put paid to any record hopes anyone might have had. Pre closed well in the final mile (4:38.6) and covered the last 440 of the 10,000 in 60.4, sprinting only the last 100y. Anderson finished 2nd, nearly a minute later (29:07.0).
“It’s really satisfying to fight the elements like that and still get those times,” Pre said later. “If the weather had been right, I would have run faster than last year for sure. But right in the middle of the race, I had nothing going for me. The fourth and fifth miles are the toughest because you’ve been running a long time, yet you’re still a long way from the end. You need some help at that point, but I didn’t get any. The weather was awful and there wasn’t anybody ahead of me or anybody behind me.”
Pre expressed satisfaction with his preparation for meetings with a visiting Finnish contingent, including double Olympic champ Lasse Viren. “I’m strong and my fitness is coming along at a very fast pace,” he said. “I’m extremely happy with my conditioning.” /John Gillespie/
June 1975: Pre Lowers 2000 Mark
Coos Bay, Oregon, May 09—Steve Prefontaine travelled a long way towards convincing the skeptics that homecourt advantage does make a difference as he returned to his hometown and site of his prep triumphs to set a new American Record of 5:01.4 in the 2000m.
Pre’s mark, which moves him into No. 5 on the all-time list behind Michel Jazy (4:56.2), Harald Norpoth (4:57.9), Emiel Puttemans (4:59.8) and Gianni Del Buono (5:00.0), came somewhat unexpectedly.
Before the race Pre said, “I’ve been under too much emotional strain setting up these meets to run a record. Also, you need perfect conditions.” The coldish weather and Viren-less race didn’t make for ideal conditions, but once the race started, according to Pre, “I knew the American record was mine if I wanted it.”
Pre got an assist for the first half-mile from Lars Kaupang of Oregon and Norway, who led through splits of 60.0 and 2:02.0. Then Pre took over and pushed through two more 60.0s before coasting in with a 59.4 over the last lap. “I wasn’t unhappy with the last lap because I haven’t done any speedwork,” commented Steve. “I ran the way I felt and right now I feel very strong and powerful.”
June 1975: Letters To The Editor
THE FACT THAT PRE has never been beaten in Eugene means, if he remains in good physical health, he will never be beaten there. The accomplishments of Pre surpass any distance runner in the world and Pre will remain No. 1 until someone beats him in Eugene.
Scott Stanford—Placentia, California
I ENJOYED the Brendan Foster interview. One thing, however, where Foster is off base—Pre is definitely better than Bedford (take that, you limeys!) and as good as Black. After all, Pre did get 4th in ‘72 while Davey was back in the ruck. Say, how come you guys have such a thing for Pre anyway? Doesn’t anybody else make good copy?
Rick Riley—Spokane, Washington
MY GOODNESS, only four letters in your April issue mentioning Steve Prefontaine. And not one heaping lavish praise on him. Where have all the Pre fans gone? Are they already preparing for his reincarnation as Bill McChesney? Stay tuned, readers.
L.A. Floerke—New York, New York
July 1975: Pre’s Penultimate Race
Modesto, California, May 24—
[Ed: His 8:36.4 won the 2M by more than a straightaway at the California Relays, but Pre’s race didn’t earn a place in our news story. There was now just a single race left in his storied career. That in the next—and final—installment of this series…]
Previously in the Pre Chronicles…