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Pre: America's Greatest Runner

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America's Greatest Runner

"For there is always a sanctuary more, a door that can never be forced, whatever the force, a last inviolable stronghold that can never be taken, whatever the attack; your vote can be taken, your name, your innards, even your life, but that last stronghold can only be surrendered. And to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love."

-Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Nation

On January 25, 1951 in Coos Bay, Oregon Steve Prefontaine was born. This town is where Pre grew into the great runner is known to be today. Pre began his running in high school when he was deemed too small to play on the football team. As he progressed through high school so did his record setting running pace. After high school, Pre attended the University of Oregon. It was here, under the legendary coach (and founder of Nike) Bill Bowermen, where his running career took off. Throughout Pre's short life he won Division 1 NCAA Cross Country titles all four years, competed in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and held all the American distance records from the 2000 meter to the 10000 meter (Moore). However, this all came to abrupt end in 1975 with his abrupt and unexpected death.

Many only see the top layer of the complex individual who is Steve Prefontaine. In fact, according to Galen Rupp, "When anybody ever talked about running, they talked about [Pre]." In his short life, few knew Pre outside of his running career. However, it is those who were close to Pre off the track that gives insight to who he really was (Fire on the Track). Not only was Pre an incredible sports icon, Pre was a spokesman against the Amateur Athletic Union, the first athletic symbol for Nike, a teammate, a friend, and a mentor to young aspiring athletes. All of these personas come together and accentuate the qualities, traits and characteristics Pre possessed. Both on and off the track, Pre's many wondrous and less notable qualities create a complex picture of who this amazing runner once was; unfortunately, his untimely death made it impossible for anyone to truly know him or what he could have achieved.

Two of Pre's most obvious characteristics were his determination and hard work to achieve the impossible. After one close call at a race Prefontaine told a reporter, "somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it." Pre knew he was good, yet he keep the work ethic and determination that is needed to not only succeed, but to be the best. This trait evolved into a way of life for Pre when he stepped up to the intercollegiate level. Pre's coach, Bowerman, drove home his philosophy on work ethic into the men of Oregon. "The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way. That just leaves us, doesn't it?" Pre took these words to heart and utilized his talent as a top tier athlete with his unyielding determination and superb work ethic. Another way Pre expressed his determination was with his running strategy and technique. "Oregon loved Pre's front - running battles against the clock because Oregonian's labor . . . was so hard it could only be done with skill and endurance. . . They saw work being done that they knew was hard unto impossible, difficult to death" (Moore). Pre always ran in the front, no matter if it cost him a record, went against his coaches' will or even lost him a bronze or possibly silver medal at the 1972 Olympics. In the movie Without Limits, Prefontaine bluntly expressed his opinion on those that did not run in the front. "I run out front and flat out till I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken shit!" Pre backed up this determination by maintaining his "physical ability, mental tenacity and hard work" (Jordan 93), and of course winning his races.

Pre's physical traits also compliment his hard work and determination found in his character. Pre once said, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift." Pre was not one to disregard his own words. Once, Pre was tested for the total air capacity capable of being held in his lungs. He scored an 84.4 ml/kg/minute of Oxygen. This was the highest VO2 rating any runner had ever achieved (Moore). His lungs were so incredibly powerful that at the time of his death, the weight of his convertible did even break a bone in his chest. Pre realized this potential and made the most out of it. He never sacrificed his gift and he always worked hard and was determined to be number one. Even though Pre's ability to hold Oxygen towered over the average human, two physical attributes worked against him. First, Pre was very skinny and short. According to Tom Jordan, Pre was too small to play on the Marshfield High School Football team. Also in running, height can be an advantage. Beside his height, Pre's left leg was larger and longer than his right. Whether Pre knew this or if it became known after his death, Pre still battled against the odds to achieve many great victories.

The characteristic that labeled Pre from his first cross country win to his last was his cockiness. Whether you knew of Pre or did not, you did know him as cocky and prideful. One of his future fans, Galen Rupp, stated in Baker's article, "He was a little bit cocky, but he could back it up." And Pre did. Many a time Pre would tell his trainer the exact time he would run in that day's race. The trainer would look at him as if he was crazy to even think he could run that pace. This emphasized his boastful and cocky attitude. Yet, just as Pre had said, he would run that exact time (or faster) (Jordan). Many believed Pre to be cocky merely because of his overwhelming talent. At the 5000 meter race in the Olympic Trials, another great runner, Buerkle, stated, "I don't think that I always felt that I was ever really afraid of Pre. I think I always felt that I could beat him. He was just one of those cocky kind of guys, dynamic kind of guys that you try to shoot at." Buerkle later compared Pre to a child playing King-of-the-Hill, and taunting the others from the top (Jordan). Pre was always full of comments that provoked many to view him as cocky. Once a reporter asked him, "What happened out there? I thought you slowed down." Pre said "Yeah, I almost let him win. I was just thinking it wasn't that big of a deal. Then, I don't know, something inside me just said, 'Hey, wait a minute, I want to beat him', and then I just took off" (Jordan 108).Through the vast opinions generated towards this superb athlete, it was those who did not truly know Pre that stereotyped him as cocky. This stereotype grew when his competition and rivals generalized about



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