As I'm writing this, today (January 25th) would have been Steve Prefontaine's 67th birthday. Steve, or "Pre" as most people refer to him, was one of the best and most prolific runners in US history and, to this day, remains one of the biggest legends of our sport. He ran at a time when runners raced. Where they chased records almost every time they hit the road or track, like they had nothing to lose and everything to prove.
And, you know what? The dude had cult-like, almost rock star status in the US. He was a runner, but he was more than that. He was brash, cocky and had total confidence in his ability to push himself harder than anyone else on any given day. And it didn't hurt that he had a kickass mustache.
Sadly, Pre died in a car accident when he was 24. The cause of the accident is still disputed in some circles today (http://stevebence.blogspot.com/2012/02/pres-rock-stories-of-accident.html). It was listed as a single car accident, but there have been several reports that another vehicle caused the crash. At the crash site, people have created a quasi-shrine, now known as "Pre's Rock". People visit from across the world to pay homage to "the kid from Coos Bay", leaving everything from flowers, to notes, to running shoes. While I haven't gone yet, I someday will, and I'll be leaving something there.
While his accomplishments on the track were nothing to sneeze at, I think the biggest allure about Pre is what he could have been, and what he could have done. He had the famous 4th place finish in the 5k at the 1972 Munich Olympics - still one of the greatest races to watch all time. Don't believe me? Watch it yourself and tell me otherwise (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laYn7SV2__U). Every time I watch this race (which has been a lot), there's always a part of me that wonders if he'll sneak away with the victory this time. He never does, but that's the magic of Pre.
I will fully admit that I'm a Prefontaine fanboy. Case in point are the pics below. These are all hanging in our house. The legend and mystique surrounding him are the stuff of stories, the likes of which we'll never see again in the American running community. While we've had some big stars in the sport, none will ever be able to replicate what's been built around Steve Prefontaine. Happy birthday, Pre.
(left) A replica "STOP PRE" t-shirt hung on our wall in a shadowbox.
(right) An original copy of the June 15, 1970 Sports Illustrated issue with Pre on the cover - his only headlining appearance.