Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 13 Sep 1998 08:54:49 -0400

Pre Runs Again

(from RC 271)

The battle of the Steve Prefontaine movies, Round 2: The much-delayed second film, retooled and renamed "Without Limits," is set for general release this fall.

Mike Tymn, who previewed the Warner Bros. product, asked me to comment for his Honolulu Advertiser piece. "Frankly, although I never met Pre, I was not one of his admirers," says Mike. "I never cared much for arrogant and/or surly people, and that's the impression I had of him."

I never met Prefontaine either, and never counted myself among "Pre's People." I only saw him run in person twice, but have lived for a long time surrounded by memories of him in Eugene.

Whatever you might think of him, there's no doubting the durability of his legend. Two movie companies think he rates feature-length treatment, and a documentary covered his life -- all more than 20 years after his death.

Mike Tymn asked me about the man, not about the movie (which I haven't yet seen). He started with, "What made Pre special?"

I'd answer that with a "where" and a "who" -- where he lived and who coached him there. These allowed him to develop his talent and display his personality.

He lived his last six years in Eugene, perhaps the only place in the U.S. where his reputation could have flowered as it did. Distance runners are appreciated and promoted here like nowhere else in the U.S. He and the adoring crowds fed on each other, he entertaining them and they bringing out the actor in him. Without this attention he might have been just another underappreciated distance runner, deprived of the applause that he needed.

In Eugene he also had Bill Bowerman, and Bowerman protege Bill Dellinger, as his coaches. They were among the special few who could have kept him from overtraining and themselves resisted the temptation to overrace him in college meets. Without these coaches he might have been just another dead-legged, dispirited graduate.

Mike Tymn then asked, "What is his legacy?" It's a rather mocking one. Prefontaine stands off in the distant past, his reputation saying, "Match me if you can."

No American man has done that, and maybe that's why we remember him so well. He represented not only a brief life and unfulfilled promise, but also the end of a brief era (early 1960s to mid-1970s) when the U.S. could run with the best in track races of a mile or more.

Recall that writer Tymn wasn't one of Prefontaine's admirers when he tells this final story:

"I read parts of Tom Jordan's book, Pre!, then went out for a four-mile run and felt faster than I have in several years. I actually got my knees halfway up in the air, then sprinted the last 100 yards or so.

"As I was doing so, I realized that it wasn't my form. I was carrying my arms in a Pre manner. Thus I'm wondering if Pre tapped into my reading about him and then 'possessed' me for that run. Laugh if you will, and I wouldn't bet much on it, but it is a remote possibility."

In many ways, if not this one, Steve Prefontaine is still with us in spirit.

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