The Pre Chronicles — Part 8, Letters To The Editor

“I order the immediate disbandment of all the silly Pre Fan Clubs,” said one letter writer in the wake of Munich. “Pre’s People” would disagree, of course. (DON CHADEZ)

HERE, IN THE EIGHTH chapter of a long multi-part series, is how we reported the volume of emotional letters to the editor (“To Box 296”) generated by Pre’s performance in Munich.

October 1972
THE CASE of Steve Prefontaine. No athlete bragged about winning so much as this cocky kid from Oregon. Where was the murderous pace he wanted to set? What I cannot understand is how the mature people of T&FN and experts all over the world rated him gold. How could you have fallen for the rhetoric of this immature kid? I order the immediate disbandment of all the silly Pre Fan Clubs.
Werner Rodiger—San Mateo, California

November 1972
I’D ESPECIALLY LIKE to express my appreciation to T&FN for its color pictures and feature stories in the Olympic Coverage issue. I didn’t like, however, the way Steve Prefontaine spoke out about the last lap of the 5000. I doubt seriously whether he had the “kick” to beat Lasse Viren, Mohamed Gammoudi or Ian Stewart. Steve ran a gutty race, as he always does (there is never any doubt that he comes to run), but anyone who lacks a kick and is content to stick behind an 8:56.4 pace in my eyes doesn’t deserve to win. I believe Pre is the best middle distance/long distance runner in the world, if he runs his race. This was the major difference between 4th-place finisher Pre and gold medalist Frank Shorter. Frank ran a perfect tactical race.
Glenn D. Cox—Monterey, California

THOSE NASTY RUNNERS didn’t let Steve Prefontaine win the 5000 he (and others) had been promising to win for a year. So Pre says, “I’m gonna foul a lot of people.” What admirable sentiment. That’s what I like about track, it’s full of good losers. If poor presumptuous Pre can’t adjust to losing, he should stay at home with the domestic competition or wait till the Games come to Coos Bay, Oregon. I wonder if Lasse Viren spent a year letting the public know he was going to win.
Mick Hamlin—Kent, England

December 1972
EVERYONE IN THE U.S. talks of the Vince Matthews/Wayne Collett incident. However, since I am a big Steve Prefontaine fan, everyone in our town asks me, “What happened to Pre?” Personally, I think that, although he did not win the Olympic 5000, he ran a hell of a race. Pre ran a smart race. He did everything as planned and ran a gusty race. As Erich Segal said on ABC-TV, Pre was probably too nervous to go faster at the beginning, but made that long drive with 4 laps to go and last challenged Lasse Viren and Mohamed Gammoudi with 300 to go before fading behind Ian Stewart in the stretch. Pre still did not let up as he nearly collapsed in the final few meters. Pre is not a loser. I think he is as much a winner as Viren, and I would like to congratulate him on a fine effort.
Dave Ritchie—Springfield, Vermont

I DIFFER IN THE CASE against Steve Prefontaine. What Pre did was lift America’s consciousness still another level to its potential in distance running at an age really before the time one should have expected victory at Munich. The challenge Pre faces is sustaining that consciousness into his own mid-20s. He has been recorded as critical of mid-20s Americans who graduate from college and rapidly dissipate their physical condition through inaction. He says we have to get off our “butt” as a nation of slaves to modern conveniences—a nation of indolents by age-30. To achieve this awareness, America needs the club spirit of Europe and Pre’s example.
Michael J. Quillinan—Yorktown Heights, New York

FIRST IT WAS “unpatriotic” Marty Liquori and now it is an “immature” Steve Prefontaine. Who is this patron saint of the Monday morning quarterback set, Werner Rodiger, and why does he keep saying nasty things about American track stars?
Rich Karlgaard—Bismarck, North Dakota

WHEN I RECEIVE my copy of T&FN, I turn immediately to “To Box 296,” which is always a source of great amusement, especially in an issue like October ’72. The readers take their jumping, throwing and running so seriously that everybody seems to have a gripe. Seriously, fellas, don’t you compose some of those letters yourselves? Many of your letterwriters are, unfortunately, as incorrect in their assumptions as they are polemic in their prose. The damning disapprobations by the panderers of pessimism in the athletic arena can go unanswered no longer.

Werner Rodiger was back again, this time critical of both Steve Prefontaine’s racing strategy and of his personality. But Lasse Viren is an 8:14.0 2M performer, and had shown in the 10,000 that a fast pace didn’t hurt him. Pre’s 3:56.7 made him the fastest miler in the race, and his 4:03.2 last mile would have won any other 5000. Pre ran smart; Viren was just a better runner in September ’72. Don’t worry about Werner, Steve; the last time we heard from Rodiger, he was saying nasty things about Marty Liquori.
Hugh Sweeny—Fanwood, New Jersey

January 1973
HOORAY FOR Dave Ritchie, Michael Quillinan, Rich Karlgaard and especially Hugh Sweeny, and boo to Werner Rodiger. Who does this Rodiger think he is? Instead of bitching and griping about some of America’s finest athletes, why can’t he be proud of them? Either that or keep his big mouth shut. Coming right out and criticizing Marty Liquori and Steve Prefontaine is like a direct slap in our faces. And how do you like this guy ordering “the immediate disbandment of all the Pre Fan Clubs”? I order the immediate disbandment of Werner Rodiger.
Alan Shipman—Glendale, Oregon

THIS IS IN REPLY to Werner Rodiger who wrote about that Steve Prefontaine was a cocky kid because he didn’t set the murderous pace he said he was going to. I don’t see this Rodiger out spending half of his life, working, struggling and doing everything else that is necessary to be in the Olympics. How dare he say what he has about someone who did go through this? It’s not that much fun and games to work your ass off and endure pain and feel badly, and then still have people who sit on their butts and criticize when all they know is what they watch or hear on television. Although I’m only a 14-year-old girl, I appreciate when someone gives his total all, win or lose. This is the kind of person I respect.
Dana Arbogast—Woodland Hills, California

I THINK IT WOULD BE a great idea if you could have a member of your staff interview Mr. Werner Rodiger and have the end result published in your Annual Edition, replete with photos, etc. Since your January issue honors track & field athletes of the year, why not publish the “Armchair Coach Of The Year” award too. Mr. Rodiger easily cops the ’72 title.
Lee Ferrero—Rantoul, Illinois

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