Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Steve Prefontaine

Runner Inspired Generations

Published May 14, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

In the early hours of 30 May 1975, legendary runner and rebel Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident, hours after competing at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Each year at about this time, members of the running community begin their frenzy to relive the excitement embodied by the American champion.

On Sunday, 21 May 2001, tens of thousands of fans will watch the 27th Prefontaine Classic on FOX SportsNet, sponsored by Nike. Many runners will visit the site of the accident and reflect quietly near the rocks. Others will ask to run a few laps around the track, perhaps glancing over their shoulders in Prefontaine style as they stride along the straightaway.

Video storeowners might wonder about the heightened interest in "Without Limits" "Fire on the Track," and "Prefontaine." Bookstores will sell Pre, The Bowerman System, and High-Performance Training for Track and Field. Enthusiastic scavengers will search garage sales and flea markets to find Sports Illustrated or Life magazines.

After traveling hundreds of miles and spending hundreds on hotels, food and gas, thousands of fans will pay $21.50 for reserved seats at Hayward Field. Others will pay $15.50 general admission to stand inside the fencing or in the bleachers.

Sometime during the two-hour meet, T-shirt venders will sell plenty of drinks and snacks. They will also offer 100% pre-shrunk cotton shirts to commemorate this year's event.

Purists will search for yellow Oregon singlets or gray Oregon Cross-Country Athletic Department T-shirts, but they are unlikely to find them at the meet. Prices for these classics range between $5 and $30.

Twelve copies remain of the "Silver Anniversary" poster for the Prefontaine Classic at a price of $99 each. Posters from "significant meet years" range in price from $15 to $50. On-line sites frequently feature "The Gift" for $19.95. The State of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame Memorial Poster sells for $10-20.

Photojournalist Geoff Parks is offering several photographs he took of Prefontaine and Frank Shorter during the final meet at Hayward Field. The asking price is $125 for a set of two different pictures.

In April 2001, the 15 June 1970 issue of Sports Illustrated sold for $125.50 on a web-based auction. A few weeks later, a lucky fan paid $418 for a framed letter written on 7 August 1970 by Prefontaine, who was requesting a pair of shoes.

At what price do we "pay" tribute to a person who embodied the spirit of amateur competition? Prefontaine's greatest struggles were not on the track, but against injustice, specifically against the AAU and its treatment of amateur athletes. As we reach the anniversary Prefontaine's death, his memory lingers on T-shirts and posters, in movies and memorabilia. Perhaps we can pay a greater tribute this year by running a bit stronger, pushing ourselves a bit farther and setting our goals a bit higher.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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