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Steve Prefontaine in the (grand) scheme of things

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  • Steve Prefontaine in the (grand) scheme of things

    I have always been somewhat at a loss when considering Prefontaine's place in international running circles. While he is a demigod in the US my suspicion is that he is "another pretty good" runner from the US.

    Those of you that have some international 'contact' over the years - Prefontaine

    where does he generally fit in track and field
    another - where does the '72 5000k rate

    I found Ian Stewart's remarks fairly telling when looking back on the 72 race, saying he had heard Prefontaine say he was prepared to run the last mile in 4:00 - to which he responded there were any number of runners who could do that. Like - what makes that a big deal? Taken to the next step - "you aint so bad!" Prefontaine.

    No question, he was a US phenomena and the dominant force, further enhanced by the AAU conflicts.

    So on the bigger platform -

  • #2
    He benefits in the US from the James Dean effect.

    It also strikes me that the death of Pre roughly coincides with the death of T&F as a major sport in the US, although that is more coincidence than causation.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by bad hammy
      He benefits in the US from the James Dean effect.

      It also strikes me that the death of Pre roughly coincides with the death of T&F as a major sport in the US, although that is more coincidence than causation.
      That is really not fair to Pre. While James Dean was a fine actor, but I don't think there was any cult over him while he was alive. He died young and then became this tragic tale.

      On the other hand, Pre, while he was alive, had a huge following. It is hard to describe what a big deal he was at the time. Hell, the main reason I moved to Eugene in May 1975 was because of Prefontaine. While there were lots of great American runners at the time: Shorter, Bjorklund, Lindgren etc. Pre was really something special.

      Listen to David Coleman on the BBC 72 5000 coverage and calls him an 'American Beatle'.

      Comment


      • #4
        This is really laughable.

        In the real world, the notion that Pre had more of a national cult following than James Dean while they were both alive is nothing if not comical.

        James Dean was not a fine actor, he was a brilliant actor, and the Hollywood hype machine helped to make him into a bigger national and international star than Pre ever was.

        Nothing against Pre (you gotta love the guy), but track and field is a zit on the ass of the public consciousness, whereas Hollywood is global.

        You gotta get outdoors more!
        "Who's Kidding Who?"

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by mrbowie
          This is really laughable.

          In the real world, the notion that Pre had more of a national cult following than James Dean while they were both alive is nothing if not comical.

          James Dean was not a fine actor, he was a brilliant actor, and the Hollywood hype machine helped to make him into a bigger national and international star than Pre ever was.

          Nothing against Pre (you gotta love the guy), but track and field is a zit on the ass of the public consciousness, whereas Hollywood is global.

          You gotta get outdoors more!

          Hey, we can't all be giants...!

          :]

          Comment


          • #6
            I was only 13 when Pre died and had just started running, not yet getting TAFNEWS, and had watched the Munich 5K, but certainly was not yet a big follower of track. My friend who won a midwestern state 2 mile title in the early 70s (9:06 HS PR) was a big track fan, and Pre was his hero, far moreso than Shorter, Virgen, Ryun, Liquori, Lingren, or anyone else. It was like the Hajj for him when we visited Pre's Rock while out at the 1988 NCAA track meet.

            Pre's times continued to improve after Munich, PRs from wiki:

            1,500 meters 3:38.1 28 June 1973 Helsinki, Finland [2]
            2,000 meters 5:01.4 9 May, 1975 Coos Bay, Oregon
            3,000 meters 7:42.6 2 July, 1974 Milan, Italy
            5,000 meters 13:21.87 26 June 1974 Helsinki, Finland
            10,000 meters 27:43.6 27 April 1974 Eugene, Oregon

            I read "Pre" long ago but don't own a copy. To you guys who were already big fans of the sport in the first half of the 1970s, I'd ask, how much opportunity was there for a Pre to compete against the world's best, presumably in European meets, between Olympiads? Was it as easy or commonplace as in the latter half of the decade? Did he take full advantage of whatever chance he had to go race against the best? Who were the top-ranked 5K/10K runners in 1973-1974? Bedford, Stewart, Jipcho, Puttemans, Foster? Some of them had all-time top 10 times in those events in those two years. Did he race any of them in 73-74?

            Pre's 10K PR put him 6th on the all-time world 10K list at the time, and he ran it in April in Eugene. Maybe more than just "another pretty good runner" from the US? He was only 23 when he put himself 6th all-time. What was his 10K potential? What could have been?

            Comment


            • #7
              Some people were critical of Pre's seeming avoidance of the European circuit. His lack of experience against those guys was identified as a possible reason for his 4th place finish rather than higher. Personally I don't think anyone was going to beat Viren. Further I told my buddies than Pre was in trouble when he didn't take of with 2 miles left.

              '72 was a time when the US had some presence in the international distance scene. I remember reading about Bedford times - with amazment and he was not a finisher - in tactical races - which of course the 5000 was - predictably (as are most championship races).

              My though here was did the Euro group/individuals think of him as a "snot nose" upstart. I also 'thought' that Pre thought himself into defeat at Munich i.e., psych. That is quite different than the lionization that continues to happen (per Hammy's James Dean thing, which I wholeheartedly agree with).

              And there was no question that, almost always, US guys racing Pre on US turf - were running for 2nd - with a few exceptions.

              I was hoping to get some "European" take on him during his hey day. I also am well aware that if you ask a cross ssection of 'middle age' guys if they knew who Jabbar, Palmer, Dr J, Bill Russell, Wilt, Hammerin Hank were they could tell you while asking your average Joe who Steve Prefontaine / Viren / Bob Seagren / Mary Decker Tabb-Slaney, was - you'd get a diff % ... just to keep things in our all to painful perspective of sport in general. Smith Carlos is the exception to the rule. I my family if you mention "Uncle Peter" - everyone knows who that is.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by no one
                I also am well aware that if you ask a cross ssection of 'middle age' guys if they knew who Jabbar, Palmer, Dr J, Bill Russell, Wilt, Hammerin Hank were they could tell you while asking your average Joe who Steve Prefontaine / Viren / Bob Seagren / Mary Decker Tabb-Slaney, was - you'd get a diff %
                Actually I think that amongst your group of middle age guys that Pre would rate close to your mainstream athletes in name recognition. But again the early death plays into that, in that his death was a highly publicized event.

                Comment


                • #9
                  In the grand scheme of things Pre was a very good runner. While still in college he goes to the Olympics and misses a medal by a foot or so. I call that very good. In the grand Scheme of things he ran an early season, loney and windy 27:43-6th alltime. Very good.

                  In the U.S. to those who witnessed and appreciated his work he was one of those most intriguing and charismatic athletes this country has ever produced. Thats it.
                  phsstt!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Stepping into the Pre cesspool one last time, let me say this: Pre was a big star with great charisma, but his appeal was to a relatively small audience. In the late 60's, early 70's there were few runners, they were almost all male and didn't jog. And, for the most part, if you were part of this group, Pre was a very big deal, before he died. If you weren't or are not part of this group of old farts, then why would you care.

                    When Prefontaine came out about 12 years ago, an awful movie by the way, I remember standing in the lobby of the theater and seeing this young tall fellow who was obviously a basketball player, and thinking "I know why I am here, but why would you be?".
                    And considering made all of 500,000 in sales I can see I was right.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Conor Dary
                      Stepping into the Pre cesspool one last time, let me say this: Pre was a big star with great charisma, but his appeal was to a relatively small audience. In the late 60's, early 70's there were few runners, they were almost all male and didn't jog. And, for the most part, if you were part of this group, Pre was a very big deal, before he died. If you weren't or are not part of this group of old farts, then why would you care.

                      When Prefontaine came out about 12 years ago, an awful movie by the way, I remember standing in the lobby of the theater and seeing this young tall fellow who was obviously a basketball player, and thinking "I know why I am here, but why would you be?".
                      And considering made all of 500,000 in sales I can see I was right.
                      I think the question is about his running ability, not popularity- here's part of the original post.

                      I have always been somewhat at a loss when considering Prefontaine's place in international running circles
                      phsstt!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I think his connection to the origins of Nike and Phil Knight - as limited as the relationship may have been in reality - also is of interest to some of the American general public outside the track & field community.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Conor Dary
                          Stepping into the Pre cesspool one last time, let me say this: Pre was a big star with great charisma, but his appeal was to a relatively small audience. In the late 60's, early 70's there were few runners, they were almost all male and didn't jog. And, for the most part, if you were part of this group, Pre was a very big deal, before he died. If you weren't or are not part of this group of old farts, then why would you care.

                          When Prefontaine came out about 12 years ago, an awful movie by the way, I remember standing in the lobby of the theater and seeing this young tall fellow who was obviously a basketball player, and thinking "I know why I am here, but why would you be?". And considering made all of 500,000 in sales I can see I was right.
                          Yes. For the small world of US distance running, Pre was a huge name in his lifetime--admired for his style as much as for the contents of his trophy case. The early death thing gave his reputation an entirely new dimension, for better or worse, that is not at all "the same" as his significance while breathing. There's no question that his fame was almost entirely a US thing; the Europeans never quite understood it, since he hadn't made a great mark internationally.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Yep Kuha, i remember reading in T&FN that Pre had p.r'd for 2 miles in an American record of 8:18 in Europe but he finished 2 or 3rd. So the Euro's must have yawned.
                            phsstt!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by DrJay
                              I was only 13 when Pre died and had just started running, not yet getting TAFNEWS, and had watched the Munich 5K, but certainly was not yet a big follower of track. My friend who won a midwestern state 2 mile title in the early 70s (9:06 HS PR) was a big track fan, and Pre was his hero, far moreso than Shorter, Virgen, Ryun, Liquori, Lingren, or anyone else. It was like the Hajj for him when we visited Pre's Rock while out at the 1988 NCAA track meet.

                              Pre's times continued to improve after Munich, PRs from wiki:

                              1,500 meters 3:38.1 28 June 1973 Helsinki, Finland [2]
                              2,000 meters 5:01.4 9 May, 1975 Coos Bay, Oregon
                              3,000 meters 7:42.6 2 July, 1974 Milan, Italy
                              5,000 meters 13:21.87 26 June 1974 Helsinki, Finland
                              10,000 meters 27:43.6 27 April 1974 Eugene, Oregon

                              I read "Pre" long ago but don't own a copy. To you guys who were already big fans of the sport in the first half of the 1970s, I'd ask, how much opportunity was there for a Pre to compete against the world's best, presumably in European meets, between Olympiads? Was it as easy or commonplace as in the latter half of the decade? Did he take full advantage of whatever chance he had to go race against the best? Who were the top-ranked 5K/10K runners in 1973-1974? Bedford, Stewart, Jipcho, Puttemans, Foster? Some of them had all-time top 10 times in those events in those two years. Did he race any of them in 73-74?

                              Pre's 10K PR put him 6th on the all-time world 10K list at the time, and he ran it in April in Eugene. Maybe more than just "another pretty good runner" from the US? He was only 23 when he put himself 6th all-time. What was his 10K potential? What could have been?
                              Of course, this all ties into the AAU issues over the travel of athletes to Europe or European athletes coming to the USA. And there were also the amateur issues. Pre wasn't a wealthy guy, and accepting too much money under the table too obviously ran a risk.

                              As to what would have happened after 1975, Dave Johnson has posted an interesting and detailed possible scenario in the past.

                              My own guess is Pre would have moved up to the 10,000 sooner or later. He probably would have medaled in Montreal but not beaten Viren. Maybe, he would have moved up to the marathon by the 1984 Olympics.

                              Off the track, I doubt that Pre would have been able to do much to stop the 1980 Olympic boycott and it is hard to say whether he would have felt a public backlash from speaking against it. But he likely would have been a player and outspoken during the passage of the Amateur Sports Act, the formation of TAC (now USATF), and the Cascade Runoff controversy that led to lossening the amateur rules. Maybe, he would have ended up leading USATF instead of Craig Masback. Or maybe, he'd have become a Nike spokesman. Or gone into hiding in Hawaii. :wink:

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