When athletes spoke their minds

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Thanks to Jules Boycoff, who recently sent me this article about Steve Prefontaine who at his death in 1975 held the US record for every distance between 2000 and 10,000 metres and who was, I suppose, an American version of Steve Ovett (if more so…). This was Prefontaine, quoted in the New York Times in March 1975:

“To hell with love of country”, says Steve Prefontaine, America’s best amateur distance runner. “I compete for myself.”

Prefontaine said he’s so fed up with the treatment of American athletes that he would change his citizenship tomorrow if given the chance. He described himself as an “internationalist”.

“People say I should be running for a gold medal for the old red, white and blue and all that bull, but it’s not gonna be that way”, Prefontaine said in an interview.

“I’m the one who has made all the sacrifices. Those are my American records, not the country’s…”

For all his deviation from the script, Prefontaine was an incredibly popular athlete in Oregon, and his life is celebrated in a 10k which is still run today. The film Without Limits which tell his life story is on YouTube (helpfully broken into 9-minute sections…). There aren’t many films about running which are worth watching. This is one.

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One response »

  1. There’s also the Prefontaine Classic, a meeting dedicated to him.It attracts some of the best athletes in the world, Maria Mutola was a regular competitor; in fact she won the 800 an incredible 16 times straight!Bernard Lagat has also competed regularly.Really sad that ‘Pre’ died at 24; he was just beginning to tap his full potential.In the 72 US Olympic Trial he was the first athlete to ever run a sub 4 min mile in the middle of a 5km!

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