I can't recall exactly when I first heard about Steve Prefontaine. While I ran in high school, I wouldn't say I was a 'student of the sport' back then and wasn't terribly familiar with the history of running.
I think it was during the beginning of my 'running renaissance' after college when I first became aware of Steve Prefontaine in any substantive way. I recognized in short order that I had stumbled onto a kindred spirit.
For the uninitiated, Steve Prefontaine was a dominant force during his time. He was an exceptionally talented runner who owned (at one point in time) every American record from 2,000 to 10,000 meters. Pre almost won the gold medal at the Olympics in 1972 for 5,000 meters and was favored to win it in 1976. Sadly, Prefontaine died in a car accident before he had a crack at winning gold.
But, Pre was more than an exceptionally talented runner. He was a bit of an iconoclast. He was a bit of a maverick. He was brash, confident, honest, and outspoken. He took on the AAU in his heyday and made a few enemies along the way. Some would characterize him as cocky or arrogant.
Basketball has Michael Jordan. Golf has Tiger Woods. Cycling has Lance Armstrong. Running has (had) Steve Prefontaine. Pre was the perfect storm of incredible, dominating talent and an iconic personality. While everyone may not have loved Pre, you had to respect him.
Arguably, there has never been a runner in the U.S. like Pre since his passing. Certainly from a pure talent standpoint no one has been as dominant in the sport since. But, perhaps as importantly, no one with the magnetic personality of a Prefontaine exists in the running community.
I have been enamored with Pre since reading his 'short' biography several years ago. Nike released a 'Pre Lives' apparel line several years ago and I promptly bought every hat, shirt, jacket, and pair of shoes associated with this Prefontaine inspired line.
What little talent I have as a runner is dwarfed by the talent possessed by Pre, but at least I can dress the part. I have no illusions (anymore) of going to the Olympics (or the Trials), but I still like to think there's a little bit of Pre in me.
I am a bit of a maverick. I always have been. One of the few bosses I got along with told me once, 'you like to have something to push against.' He was right. I always have been a bit too candid for my own good. I'm a bit brash at times and am rarely short on words.
I also race the way I think Pre did (sans the bold frontrunning). I roll the dice and put it all on the line. Win or lose, there's never a question about how much is left in the tank at the end of the day. So, I guess it's fair to say that I run because Pre Lives.