Thursday, June 21, 2018

V8 N. 38 Ted Corbitt as Remembered by Denis Fikes

This post was taken from Gary Corbitt's Facebook page with correspondence from Denis Fikes about Gary's father, Ted Corbitt. 

In case you missed this post by Denis about his New York visit June 6th, I’ve posted again below.
Denis – I thank you for attending the bust unveiling ceremony. Your presence added to a great evening honoring my father. I never saw you run in person for the University of Penn, but your outstanding years at Rice High School are quite memorable. Dominating, majestic, running royalty are terms that come to mind. Your groundbreaking achievements are an example of what motivates me towards preserving this great history of our sport. Firstly we need to be made aware of our history-makers, and once we have the facts; stories can be documented and handed down to future generations.
FB Followers: Denis is part of the African American Running History timeline (1880 – 1979) that I’ve developed.
April 27, 1974 - Denis Elton Cochran Fikes
Denis Fikes representing the University of Penn runs a 3:55.0 mile in the 1974 Penn Relays’ to place second to Tony Waldrop in the Ben Franklin Mile. This performance was the fastest mile ever by an African American. He would hold the distinction of being the fastest African American miler ever for an amazeing 18 years.
At Penn, Denis Fikes recorded over 25 school records in the middle distance events from 1,000 meters to three-miles. He won seven Heptagonal titles and one IC4A title. He was a six-time All-Eastern honoree and a two-time All-American.
Here’s the post from Denis:
Yesterday I was surrounded by people and places that inspire me. It was Global Running Day. I started the day having breakfast with my mother, Ella Fikes Dufau, who was and continues to be my biggest fan and supporter. I then had a too short visit with my only remaining aunt, Dina Joyner, she now lives in a nursing home in Harlem and is as loving and caring as she ever was. It was a joy to spend time with her. Upon returning to my mother’s place, we had a wonderful afternoon of talking and visiting with her friends at the Lehman Senior Center. Then, I was off to the New York Road Runners’ (NYRR) Running Center via a walk through Central Park, which was where I ran many of my morning workouts with my brother, Don Welton Fikes as well as my Rice teammate, Norman Dufford before school.
This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the NYRR. Among the many events surrounding this milestone and Global Running Day, and the reason for my going to the NYRR Running Center was to witness the unveiling of the bust of Ted Corbitt.
“The Father of Long Distance Running”
A distance running pioneer and the co-founder and first president of NYRR, Ted Corbitt had a unique dedication to the sport and a passion for excellence that carried over into every aspect of his life. He completed an incredible lifetime total of 223 marathons and ultramarathons. His training, which routinely included 200-mile weeks, was more than just preparation for racing. It was a lifestyle that has inspired many who came after him.
For me, as a young black distance runner in the late 60’s there were very few Black-American’s I could look to for inspiration. It wasn’t until late in my high school career that I first learned of Ted Corbitt but it was years later that I came to better know and appreciate what he gave to distance running and in particular, what he gave to Black Men in America. As I sat in my chair awaiting the unveiling of Ted’s bust, I was struck by the number of black men in attendance. I still have vivid memories of starting cross country races at Van Cortlandt Park my freshman year at Rice, races that had up to 200 or more runners and not seeing anyone on the starting line that looked like me. I was proud to see that we were so well represented and I wondered what Ted would think of Black Men Run, an organization whose mission statement reads – “To encourage health and wellness among African American men by promoting a culture of running/jogging to stay fit resulting in “A Healthy Brotherhood.” I only recently became aware of this organization – their moment is growing – they have groups in Atlanta, New York City and Philadelphia with others locations starting up.
At the conclusion of the unveilingl program, I quickly thanked Gary Corbitt for all that he has done to promote his father’s legacy and to support and strengthen the participation of Black-Americans in all aspects of track and field and distance running through his research and writing. I was then off to catch my train back to Philadelphia. I reached home around 9:00 PM and was welcomed by my wife, Doris S. Cochran-Fikes, who is the joy of my life and the person who provides me with continuous inspiration simply by being herself. How did I get so lucky.
If you have interest and or want to learn more about Ted Corbitt, Gary Corbitt and/or Black Men Run, please Goggle them, you will be inspired.
Stay well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

V8 N. 37 The Southern California Trojan All Everything Track and Field List

Pete Brown, a  dear friend and follower of this blog sent us a link to a data base recently published by Trojan Force a booster group for USC Track.  The co-researchers, collectors, editors, historians of this data base are Russ Reabold and Sam Nicholson.  The data base contains the names, events and times performed by everyone who ever competed for USC.  Events are listed by order, fastest times to slowest times, and no times if the competitors are culled from dual meet lists where non winning times were not given.  The list goes back to 1894 and continues up to 2018.  The women's list is still under construction but expected to be done yet this year.  Amazing work by Russ and Sam.  Congratulations from Once Upon a Time in the Vest.  One minor suggestion to the creators would be further identification on many of the pictures.

Pete who connected us to the data base grew up in the Los Angeles area and attended meets with his dad from the early 1950s.  Pete went on to compete in the 880 for Porterville JC and the U. of New Mexico and has through his personal contacts and loans of material, kept this blog functioning.  His comments when he sent me the information are as follows:
You will find some incredible track tradition here, including my coach at Porterville JC in 1959, Olympic champion Sim Iness (1952), and my 6th grade teacher in 1950, Bob Pruitt, outstanding 880 man. There are some technical issues, but it really is an amazing list in terms of great athletes. It dates back to 1894.

When I was a kid, just getting interested in track and field, SC dominated everything. Mel Patton, Dick Attlesey, Sim Iness, and Parry O’Brien among the first  USC athletes I saw compete in the LA Coliseum. They all either set WR’s or won Olympic Games or both. Los Angeles was a great place to grow up for a track fan.

USC won the NCAA team title 7 times in the 1930’s; 5 times in the 1940’s, 7 times in 1950’s, and 5 times in the 1960’s. They were absolutely dominant---60% of all available NCAA track and field championships in that 4 decade period.

My great friend, history prof at U Kentucky, is on the USC list for the javelin---Eric Christianson.

My dad always talked about the great Clarence “Bud” Houser who is pictured in the shot put section---an Olympic champion and world record holder. Sprinter Charley Paddock was a legend to track fans from
S Calif like Roy, Eric, Dennis and me, as was the great miler Louis Zamperini. Both were before our time, but famous if you lived in Los Angeles.

USC had three of their greatest athletes of all time in the 2018 NCAA meet in Ellis, Norman and Benjamin. That long tradition of USC alive and well.   


The USC Data Base    Clik Here

Friday, June 1, 2018

V8 N. 36 November - December, 1967

Hey we're catching back up to 50 years ago.  Just have to push a little harder to get up to June, 1968.  

This as you all know is a summary of what Track and Field News was putting on their pages.   

    The year has ended not with a bang, but a whimper. More pages in these two issues are devoted to the possible negro boycott of next year's Olympics than reporting of competition.
    Saturday, Nov. 25 is a busy day in the cross country world. The NAIA meet is held in Omaha. The USTFF meet is contested in Fort Collins, Colorado and the AAU meet takes place in ChIcago. Two days later collegiate runners test the 7300 foot elevation of Laramie, Wyoming in the NCAA meet.
    John Mason of Fort Hayes State hauls in Canadian Dave Ellis on a steep half mile incline and holds on to win the NAIA meet by two seconds. Van Nelson is third, five seconds back. Defending champion, Irishman Pat McMahon, finishes fourth 20 seconds behind Nelson. If you remember what school he attended, give yourself a pat on the back. That's right, Oklahoma Baptist. Ellis' Eastern Michigan crew edges Nelson's St. Cloud State squad 85-88.
    Arjan Gelling of North Dakota and Holland overcomes miserable conditions to take the USTFF championship by 70 yards over BYU's Ray Barris. International vet Oscar Moore leads for 4 ½ miles before fading to 6th.

Arjan Gelling Biography   (For the piece we published three years ago on Arjan Gelling.)

 Mike Ryan of the Air Force kicks hard to finish third. Another pretty good runner, Doug Brown, can manage only 14th. How miserable were those conditions? The course, described as “more than six miles” is a trail scrapped from the snow. 108 runners brave the windy 20 degree weather at the 4300 foot altitude. Hot chocolate for everyone.

    The AAU meet in Washington Park is in Kenny Moore's hip pocket from the get go. The former Oregon Duck, now competing for the Oregon TC, knows his capabilities. He stays with Andy Boychuk and Kerry Pearce until the finish is in sight and kicks past for 30 yard victory. “If any big kickers were up with the leaders, I would have run the last two miles very hard. But they weren't, so I waited until the end”. Joe Lynch must be a big kicker because he caught Pearce and Boychuk to take second, seconds behind Moore.
    There are certain axioms that must be accepted; the law of gravity, the rotation of the earth, the danger of running with scissors and ain't no NCAA runner beating Gerry Lindgren. In eight NCAA championships – indoors, outdoors, cross country –, no one has done it and it doesn't happen this day either. He goes to lengths to give them a chance by intentionally arriving two days before the competition. “Altitude affects you the most after two days. I wanted to feel the worst that it could do to me - and I guess I did.” 
     Wearing long johns and gloves to protect against the biting wind and 25 degree weather, he finishes 15 seconds ahead of Arjan Gelling who is doubling back after winning the NAIA race two days ago. Villanova won this meet easily last year. They win this year as well, but just barely. Their fifth man, Ian Hamilton, does the heavy lifting by finishing ten spots ahead of the Air Force's fifth finisher to give the Wildcats a 91-96 victory. Colorado is third with 110.

Enjoy reading your blog while traveling thru Italy! Particularly liked today’s on  XC from 67’, which I’m pretty familiar with since I would hear all the stories in 70’ when I got to USAFA about Ryan, then knowing a lot of the characters from CU and CSU. I have told others about that Lindgren story of arriving two days before the race, but not sure where I had heard it- at least now I can document it!
One small error on the USTF meet- Fort Collins is at 5,000 feet and there’s no where near there that is at 4300- possibly 4800 and its a typo?
Back to Portland tomorrow!

Take care!  Rick Lower

'This from another reader:

Once again, please let me remind you about the difference, often mistaken, between altitude and elevation. The former is the distance above the Earth’s surface, such as an airplane flying 20,000 above the Earth’s surface. That’s altitude.

Elevation is the measure of how high one is on the topography, such as that I live at 5,700 feet above sea level.

Having read this comment I'm reminded that the athletic community frequently juxtaposes the definitions of 'elevation' and 'altitude'.    For years we have been saying that runners have been going to 'high altitude training sites' or 'the Kenyans have certain advantages due to their living and training at high altitude most of their lives'.   Yet they run on the ground at zero altitude.  So it is the elevation which is the determining factor.  Just to confuse the issue some more,  architects use a completely different definition of 'elevation' meaning the view of the surface of a building, but I digress.   

 I'm reminded that I was once flying at an altitude of 100 feet over the south slope of a mountain, but at an elevation of 10,000 feet.    Indeed pilots generally refer to altitude as how high they are above the surface of the earth so that they do not crash into mountain sides.  So do altimeters measure altitude by a radar like device or are they set and adjusted to barometric pressure?   

Google says, "Conventional aircraft altimeters work by measuring the atmospheric pressure at the airplane's flight altitude and comparing it to a preset pressure value. Air pressure decreases by about one-inch mercury for each 1,000-foot altitude increase. ... A higher static pressure causes the wafers to compress.May 11, 2018

I would certainly hope that preset  pressure value is accurate and takes in pressure differentials  due to weather changes.   I guess when in doubt the pilot can always look out the window. 

Another place where altitude and elevation can get one in trouble is parachuting.  I read once that a bunch of skydivers parachuted at the South Pole but forgot to take into account that the South Pole is at a significantly high altitude, such that their standard parachutes were not big enough to slow down their descent in that thinner air and they hit the ground much harder than expected.  

    Nineteen sixty-eight is just around the corner and with it the Mexico City Olympic Games. Sociologist and activist Harry Edwards has suggested that black athletes boycott the games as a means of drawing attention to the plight of the negro in American society. The world's best 200 and 400 meter runners, San Jose State teammates Tommie Smith and Lee Evans, are contemplating a boycott. Will they? Will others join them? Seven pages of the December issue are devoted to this subject. Two pages are filled with essays by T&F News founders Cordner and Bert Nelson and managing editor Dick Drake, counseling against a boycott.

Comments from athletes, retired athletes and others close to the situation:

JERRY PROCTOR: I, as a negro athlete, will go along with whatever the majority of athletes decides. May God be with everyone so that he makes a wise decision.

GAYLE HOPKINS: Who does Harry Edwards think he is? I am over 21. I will make my own decisions.

TOMMIE SMITH: Right now, I'm standing where I stand. If you can come up with some good answers why I shouldn't boycott, I'll listen.

JOHN CARLOS: The motives behind the boycott are alright. Today's Negro is using his own mind and realizes he is being mistreated. If enough athletes boycott, it can be effective.

CHARLIE GREENE: It comes down to a matter of if you are an American or if you are not. I am an American, and I'm going to run.

LEE EVANS: Due to some misunderstanding in previous quotes, I would like to express my gratitude for the help I have received from my coaches, Bud Winter and Ted Banks, both on and off the track. There has been a tremendous amount of pressure on me lately, and they have lessened the burden with the understanding they have demonstrated.

LARRY LIVERS: My own feelings are myriad. But I am convinced of one thing. That the proposed boycott is off base.

JACKIE ROBINSON: I say use whatever means. I feel we have to use whatever means to get our rights here in this country. And I don't go for violence. But when, for 300 years, Negroes have been denied equal opportunity, some attention must be focused on it.

JESSE OWENS: I deplore the use of the Olympic Games by certain people for political aggrandizement. There is no place in the athletic world for politics. It is my own personal experience that the Olympic Games is one of the greatest areas in which personal achievement is rewarded culturally and, eventually, financially and economically.

REV. ANDREW YOUNG, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Dr. Martin Luther King: Dr. King applauds this new sensitivity among Negro athletes and public figures and he feels this must be encouraged, not discouraged. Dr. King told me that this represents a new spirit of concern on the part of successful Negroes for those who remain impoverished. Negro athletes may be treated with adulation during their Olympic careers, but many will experience the same slights experienced by other Negroes. Dr. King knows that this is a desperate situation for the Negro athlete, the possibility of giving up a chance for a gold medal, but he feels that the cause of the Negro may demand it.

AVERY BRUNDAGE, International Olympic Committee president: These misguided young men were being badly misadvised. If these boys are serious, they are making a very bad mistake. If they are not serious and they are using the Olympic Games for publicity purposes, we don't like it. They would be depriving themselves of an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime.

Less moderate was mail received by Tommie Smith and Lee Evans.
Smith got this one.  "Thanks for pulling out of the Olympic Games. Now I can be interested in our Olympic team. I quit being interested in watching a bunch of animals like Negroes go through their paces. Please see what you can do about withdrawing Negroes from the professional field such as boxing, baseball and football."   (San Francisco)

"You are right. Off the field, you are just niggers. Does UBSA mean United Sons of Bitches Assembly? Black boys, you need the games."  (San Jose)

"How much are the communists paying you to make damn fools out of your fellow Americans?" (Fullerton, CA)

"Don't be a fool and try to pull rank or pressure. Because if you do, you're through because we wouldn't want to see a flock of letters to the Olympic committee asking that you NOT be permitted to represent the US in any event" (Glendale, CA)

"Why the hell don't you and all the jiggabo so called athletes boycott all things American and try the Congo. Now, there is a leading country - - cook pots and dung piles everywhere, but that is the black culture. If you can't stand that, try Biafra, Nigeria. I think you colored folks would be better off in your own tribes with your unpronounceable names."

And then one voice of reason with a well thought out suggestion.

"Dear Lee,........My suggestion: The black athlete should try out for the Olympic team. Those that make it should go to Mexico City and compete in their events. Those that win medals should, if they wish to protest, refuse to mount the victory stand. The American flag would be raised. The band would play the national anthem but there would be an empty place on the stand where Lee Evans or Tommie Smith should be. That way the world can see America's shame in a very dramatic way.........It would shake us up a lot more to look at that empty space on the victory stand and hear a black athlete say over world wide TV, “ I refused to get up there, not because I don't love my country. I do. But I love it, not for what it is, but for what it can be.”

Many of our readers are “old timers” who have criticized today's manners and morals (think grandchildren obsessed with cell phone games) with the assessment, “It's not like the old days”. After reviewing this entry, I think we can say, “Thank God it isn't”.  Roy

The Journey of the African American Athlete     this  6 minute clip from youtube records some of those events we have just covered as well as the resulting actions taken at Mexico City.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

V 8 N. 35 Dick Quax New Zealand Olympian R.I.P.

Theodorus Jacobus Leonardus "DickQuax (1 January 1948 – 28 May 2018)

We learned yesterday that Dick Quax ,  New Zealand's Olympic and Commonwealth Silver Medalist  at 5000 meters (Montreal 1976) has passed away.  Quax in his words lived with cancer the past five years.   In 1977 Quax set a world record for the 5000 at 13:12+ in Stockholm.   Of all the great Kiwi runners only he , Peter Snell , and John Walker set WR's at Olympic distances.  His stride was said to be one of the best and most efficient ever.

Finish at Montreal  L-R
Rod Dixon (4th), Brendan Foster, Quax, (2nd) Ian Stewart (6th), Lasse Viren (1st), Klaus-Peter Hildebrand (3rd)

Only Lasse Viren's great stretch run kept Dick Quax off the top of the podium at Montreal, but you can see in race films that it was Quax who took it to the pack going into the  last turn with 200 meters to go sprinting  like a banty rooster in the barnyard.  It was truly one of the most hotly contested 5000s in Olympic history.

The Montreal Finish  Video clik here.

Numerous tributes are being paid to Dick Quax in the New Zealand press.  Below are links to several of them.

George Roy Steve

New Zealand Herald article May 31, 2018

New Zealand Herald article Jan. 20, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

V 8 N. 34 Pre We Hardly Knew Ye.... by Paul O'Shea

This weekend  the annual Prefontaine Classic will be held for the final time in the old Hayward Field before it is torn down and rebuilt.  Paul O'Shea will be there to report on the meet and hopefully we'll be hearing from him about it.  

In anticipation we are reprinting his article about Steve Prefontaine.   

George Roy Steve

Editor’s Note: The following article originally appeared in Cross Country Journal in the March/April 2015 issue and in our humble blog last year just prior to the Prefontaine Classic. The editorial board has decided that this will become an annual event.

Pre, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Paul O’Shea
Photo: Tony Duffy

To give anything less than your best, he famously said, was to sacrifice the gift.  It was an ethic Steve Prefontaine shared with us to the end of his brief life.
In the spring of 1975 I was riding under the Hudson River on a PATH train linking New York City with Hoboken, New Jersey, reading a newspaper. Buried in a sports news summary I came across these sentences: American distance runner Steve Prefontaine is dead, killed in an automobile crash in Eugene, Oregon.  Prefontaine was 24 years old.  
One of America’s greatest distance runners was gone. I was shocked, devastated by the news.
In a few weeks the international track and field community will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of the athlete who defines “iconic.” Commemorating that May 30, 1975 tragedy and honoring his memory, it’s fitting to ask: what made Steve Prefontaine the legendary “Pre”? Why does his name still resonate after all these years?  What can today’s runners learn from the way he never gave less than his best, never sacrificed his gift?  
Growing up in lumberjack Coos Bay, Oregon sports were the ticket to popularity, but Prefontaine was too small for football so he began running with the junior high team. At Marshfield High School he went out for cross country and discovered his life’s mission. As a sophomore he was an early success, placing sixth in the state meet.
“Ferociously competitive” as Olympian/author Kenny Moore would later describe him, Prefontaine twice was state cross country champion and broke the national high school two-mile record by seven seconds with 8:41.5. That got Frank Shorter’s attention who was then at Yale—the time was about the same as Shorter’s PR.
Following graduation Pre entered the 1969 AAU three-mile in Miami and qualified for the US national team, finishing fourth behind Gerry Lindgren. At 18 he was on his first international tour. That summer he ran 5,000 meters in 13:52.8, placing third in the U.S-Europe meet.
Jeff Johnson, a Track and Field News photographer, remembered seeing him for the first time after hearing about those high school performances.  At the AAU, on an elevator in the athletes’ hotel, Johnson talked briefly with “this little kid.” Later he noticed him hanging around the elite runners, apparently eager for autographs. The next day Johnson was focusing on the boldface names on the starting line--and there was the little kid, standing among the Sequoias, ready to race in his Marshfield uniform. “My God, that’s Steve Prefontaine!”
Before running his first collegiate race he’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a headline that read, “America’s Distance Prodigy.” Forty college teams pursued the Coos Bay wonder, but the hardheaded coach at the University of Oregon was a reluctant suitor.  Bill Bowerman didn’t recruit runners.  They applied for admission.
To be sure he wanted the precocious Prefontaine, but the Ducks’ leader was loath to chase the athlete who would have been the No. 1 pick in any distance runner draft.  Finally, Bowerman sent Prefontaine a handwritten letter that would transform the sport, the University and its historic Hayward Field.  For the next several years an irresistible force met an immovable object, each bending a little, but only centimeters.
In four years Steve Prefontaine won three Division I cross country titles and four consecutive three mile/5,000 meter track crowns.  He ran his best mile in 3:54.6, then just three-and-a-half seconds slower than the world record.  Bill Dellinger, who had succeeded Bowerman as coach, recalled that Pre never missed a workout or a race.
When we think of Pre we remember the biggest test of his career, the l972 Olympic 5,000 meter final in Munich, held four days after the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s terrorist attack resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
Those thirteen minutes, twenty-eight seconds he gave us, a painting that will forever hang in our memory, revealed familiar, obstinate ways.  It was the kind of race he hated, a typical championship shuffle. After a lollygagging two miles in 8:56, impatient Pre went to the front, having told the world that he would run the last mile in four minutes. “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”  
The 21-year-old led for the next two laps, then Finland’s Lasse Viren attacked with 800 meters left. In third, Pre counterattacked on the backstretch of the penultimate lap, but Viren regained the lead with 400 meters remaining.  Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Prefontaine gave chase but the Finn won going away, winning his second gold medal of the Munich Games. Viren had run 4:02.
Running the last mile in 4:04 Prefontaine was spent and lost the bronze at the finish line when Ian Stewart of Great Britain surged past. It was one of the great competitive distance races in track and field history.   
After the race, incapable of holding back emotionally, the American warned David Bedford, the UK’s 10,000-meter world record holder: “I’ll see you in Montreal and I’ll kick your butt.” Indeed, had Pre lived, he would have been a favorite to win the 1976 5,000.
The post Olympic years were ones of great achievement and personal challenge.  He set nine American bests including a 27:43.6 in the 10,000, just five seconds over the world record.
Now that he was no longer on scholarship there was a struggle to make a living. To survive he lived in a trailer, shopped with food stamps.  He tended bar where he was a regular patron, until the disapproving Bowerman shut him down.
A fledgling professional track association offered a $200,000 contract, but he rejected the offer in order to retain his “amateur” standing.  Bowerman and one of his former milers, Phil Knight began collaborating on a business that would become Nike, provider of all goods athletic. Pre sent the early Nike shoes to runners he had met, including Bill Rodgers. At first he was paid in shoes, then earned $5,000, the first athlete to sign with the company. Nike called Pre its National Public Relations Manager.
Off the track Pre pushed the pace in civilian life, too. He challenged the sport’s governing authorities, the AAU and the International Olympic Committee. Before track and field became a professional sport, he believed athletes should be paid openly, rather than under the table as was then happening.  The AAU’s per diem was three dollars.
He started a running club at the Oregon State Prison. For more than four decades the program has helped inmates cope with their incarceration. Limited to 150 prisoners, there is a four-year wait to get into the group.  He also volunteer coached at a local junior high school.

The legend grew as he won races with characteristic intensity:  “Most people run a race to see who’s the fastest.  I run a race to see who has the most guts.” Showman, hero, rebel, we remember Steve Prefontaine because he displayed front running courage.  He fed off the crowds. Spectators cheered his warm-ups.  He was spirited, cocky, even charming. He was a hero for his time, and remains a star to thousands of young runners today, who see the movies and documentaries, read the books and news stories, watch his races on film.
Accessible and immensely quotable, his words live on in interviews and anthologies: “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints.  I like to make something beautiful when I run.  I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’  It’s more than just a race, it’s a style.  It’s doing something better than anyone else.  It’s being creative.”
There was nothing false or contrived: “How does a kid from Coos Bay, with one leg longer than the other win races?  All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small Pre.’ ‘You’re not fast enough Pre,’ ‘Give up your foolish dream Steve.’  But they forgot something.  I HAVE TO WIN.”
And then the man with the exceptional talent ran the last race, crossed the final finish line.
During that day Steve Prefontaine did the ordinary things that made him such an extraordinary individual.  He went for an eye-opening run (six miles at six a.m. was the regimen), and prepared for the early evening meet at Hayward in which he faced several leading Finnish runners he had invited to this country, though Viren pulled out before the meet.
When Pre won, looking back over his shoulder, defeating Frank Shorter in the second fastest American 5,000 time, it was just two seconds off his personal best. For the 35th time he was victorious on the Hayward track, losing only three races, each a mile in distance. Over his career he started l53 races, winning 120. At one point he held seven American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.
Bowerman said, “He had just begun to reach maturity when the show was over,” never having won an Olympic medal or broken a world record.
Later that May 29 evening the Oregon and Finnish runners threw a party.  Moore and Shorter remember Pre had three or four drinks before calling it an evening just after midnight. He left telling his parents who also were at the party, take care driving home.  Pre dropped Shorter off, drove down Skyline Drive, swerved into a rock at the side of the road, possibly having been run off the road by another car.  His treasured butterscotch MGB convertible flipped and he was trapped under the car. Four hours after winning, he was dead.  The police measured his blood alcohol level at .16, above the legal limit at the time, though his family and friends did not believe he was in danger.
Pre’s death stunned the world.  Four thousand people attended a Hayward Field memorial service a few days later. Kenny Moore, one of our sport’s finest writers said: “All of us who now say, ‘I had no idea how much this man meant to me,’ do so because we didn’t realize how much we meant to him.  He was our glory, and we his.”
A roadside memorial was constructed a few feet from where he died; fans visited Pre’s Rock, a stone with a picture of Pre. There you’ll find medals from races, running jerseys, shoes, newspaper clippings, flowers, contributed by athletes and fans, a commemoration of his life, a connection that will echo for decades to come.
Often compared with actor James Dean, who also died at 24 in a traffic accident, Prefontaine drew immense numbers of supporters to the austere Hayward stands over the years.  His life story was the subject of Disney and Warner Bros. movies, and several documentaries including the treasured DVD, Fire on the Track, which contains rare footage of races and interviews with teammates, coaches, family and friends. On the twentieth anniversary of his death, Fire was broadcast on the CBS network before the l995 Prefontaine Classic meet.
Another essential source is Tom Jordan’s biography, Pre, The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine (Rodale, l977, 1994, 1997).  The Prefontaine Classic is one of the IAAF’s Diamond League fixtures on the international track and field circuit.  Jordan is the Pre Classic meet director.
What made “Pre”?  Jordan, in his book captures the runner’s essence: “Pre’s story…is about an individual who in an incredibly short span of time helped instigate the end of amateurism, set the tone for a brash company that became the Nike colossus, and inspired generations of American distance runners by his complete commitment to wringing everything out of what he called ‘the Gift.’”
Sadly, I never saw him run. Still, his is a gift that keeps on giving.

Wow,  this is wonderful.   When we meet someday I want to hear more about this.     I’m from calif, so all I know is the history of this.   The day of the meet.   He was  hanging out with Frank Shorter.   But you have many more details. Mike W.

While I was a student at U of O, I was lucky enough to see him run that afternoon he died. I still remember the somber morning after hearing the news. Eugene was in shock, mourning his death. We all went up Skyline to see where it happened still in disbelief. Hard to believe it was 40 years ago. 
Since I’ve been volunteering at The Prefontaine Classic for the last number of years, I always go to the rock and celebrate his amazing life. 

Reading about Pre never gets old.  I heard about it on the way to school, TMHS.  I remember being in their tennis court later that day just thinking about Pre.  He was tops with almost all American distance runners of that day.  As you know, when you go to Eugene there are tons of Pre shirts being worn and even more in the stores.  What a story!  Bill S.


Paul O’Shea has followed the sport for more than fifty years.  After retirement from a career in corporate communications he began contributing to Cross Country Journal and other track and field/cross country publications.  He resides in Northern Virginia and can be reached at Poshea 17

V8 N. 38 Ted Corbitt as Remembered by Denis Fikes

This post was taken from Gary Corbitt's Facebook page with correspondence from Denis Fikes about Gary's father, Ted Corbitt.  ...