Saturday, June 5, 2010


In Mark Remy's The Runner's Rule Book, Rule 1.10 is "Get to Know Pre."  I've heard of Steve Prefontaine, but wasn't well-acquainted with him or his accomplishments and influence on the world of running.  There have been not one but two feature films made about him.  I watched Prefontaine, from 1997.  Someone thought he was popular enough for another movie the next year; Without Limits came out in 1998. 

Steve Prefontaine ran for Coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon.  He held every American track and field record from the 2,000 to the 10,000 meters.  He had a passion to win; as Bowerman says in the movie, "Pre turned distance running into a blood sport."  In college he won virtually every race he ran, but in the 1972 Olympics he placed 4th in the 5000.  Had he not died tragically in a car wreck, he would likely have continued to run faster; he was poised to dominate the 1976 Olympics.

Here's Steve Prefontaine.  Fast.

Here's Jared Leto as Pre.

I like the way the movie was made, shifting between documentary style and feature style, and using archival footage to add realism.  It's a well-made, well-acted movie.  They weren't shy about showing Pre as human: at times arrogant, self-centered, a womanizer.  But the focus is on why we love him: his passion to run faster and harder than anyone thought he could.

Prefontaine's brief running career marks a crucial period of the growth of running as a sport.  He was a colorful character and stunning record-breaker, so he gained lots of notoriety, even making the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager.  People began paying attention to running.  At the same time Coach Bowerman was making his prototype shoes using his wife's waffle iron.  He tested out his ideas on Pre and ended up turning his crazy shoe ideas into the athletic empire that is now Nike.  In one funny scene, Bowerman brings a pair of shoes to Pre before a race, and explains that the swoosh on the side was his business partner's idea.  Pre rips it off, tosses it aside, and says, "Looks like needless wind resistance to me."

I'm not sure we can overestimate Pre's influence on running.  With his fame, Bowerman's shoe innovations and founding of Nike, as well Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers's exploits, the running boom of the 1970s was born.  Prefontaine was a nice introduction to Pre, and it made me want to get out and run fast!

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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