Saturday, December 17, 2011

Prefontaine – My second Pre movie

If you actually read this blog (which I still find hard to believe), you may remember that I watched Without Limits, a movie about the great Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car accident when he was 24, before showing the World his full potential. I didn't get into the movie in detail at the time but I wish I had. I would have liked to have compared them in a little more detail. Without Limits was a good movie. The cast and photography was stronger. Still, this movie brought some richness to Pre's story that I didn't get from the one movie. You can't really summarize someone's life in a single movie.

The cast clearly wasn't on–par with Without Limits:
  • Jared Leto played Steve Prefontaine. It wasn't a bad performance. It didn't help that he is just too darned pretty. He looked 12 years old and that mustache looked stuck–on, which I'm sure it was. I had no idea who he was. My wife on the other hand seems to know him well. It clearly makes a case for me believing him to be too cute for the role. Billy Crudup in Without Limits was much more believable although he played Pre in a very dark and brooding way—maybe too much so.
  • R. Lee Ermey plays Bill Bowerman, the legendary track coach of Oregon and the founding partner of Nike. After this performance, I'm not sure if Bowerman was a lunatic of if Ermey is a little unstable. Probably a little bit of both I would imagine.
  • Dellinger, Bowerman's assitant coach is played by Ed O'Neil. I just love this man. I can't explain why and I know that I am not alone.

Jared Leto. Too cute.

Here's what stuck with me as I watched the movie...
  • There was some original footage mixed in to this movie. I liked that a lot. There's a cool home movie where Pre is doing push-ups as a kid. He looks super intense about it. A foreshadowing of the future drive that would make him a really inspiring runner.
  • Prefontaine depicts Pre as being too small to play other sports. There's a scene that shows him running home after an embarrassing football game. It cuts to him running when he is older. What I like about this scene is that I believe in the healing power of running and failure and frustration like that could well have been one of Steve's triggers. 
  • Pre was a huge Oregon fan but he wanted Bowerman to show him that he wanted him in the school. That's a pretty arrogant thing for a highschool kid to do. In Without Limits, Bowerman wrote a letter to Pre asking him to come to Oregon. In this movie, Bowerman wrote a published letter in The World of Sports. Later in the movie, Bowerman acts like he didn't actually write the letter at all. This doesn't seem to be accurate. This image of a letter from Bowerman in Flickr seems to show that Without Limits is more factual. I'm not an expert on the matter.
  • On the subject of Bowerman, the movie doesn't get into the craft of shoe making quite the same way as Without Limits but there are classic scenes of him making waffle soles with his wife's waffle iron. It's so sad that the noxious fumes from those days were what ended his life.
  • The other athletes at Oregon talked about runners being more upper class. It's strange to think that this classist carry–over from the old days still existed in the 1960's. 
  • This movie did a good job of balancing Pre's character. It made him seem arrogant but self aware. He was also tempered (willingly) by his parents and girlfriend who did not let him get too big for his boots. His role in fighting the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) was shown to have humbled him. I'm not sure if this was the real Pre but I'd like to believe he was more balanced than the more self-absorbed and arrogant version in Without Limits.
  • I didn't realize how sexy the mile was and maybe still is to track runners. Bowerman wanted Pre to do the 3 mile but Pre really wanted the mile. The movie makes it sound like Pre helped to make other distances popular with the Oregon fans. Not sure how true that is but he did have quite the following. He would have inspired me to run whatever distance he was running.
  • What is it with running movies and awesome music? The Who's Teenage Wasteland is an awesome piece of music to put to Prefontaine running. Perfection.
  • Without Limits does not get into any judgement of Pre's driving. Prefontaine seems to hint that he was a fast driver but doesn't peg him as reckless. He was even shown drinking a bit before he took–off in the car on the night he died. It's a touchy subject considering nobody ever found out why his car hit the rock. 
  • Why on earth would neither movie run with the story of Pre being half German? For someone with a German heritage to go to the Olympics in Germany would be huge. There's a whole storyline that is missing here. Only an American made film could overlook something that obvious. I would love to have known his mother's feelings. I would like to have known if it was his first time there. I would like to have seen him speak German and absorb the culture.
  • Without Limits didn't get into the emotions of the horrific terrorist act at the Olympics with the Israeli team. This movie made it a bigger story and portrayed Pre as being more sympathetic.
  • The first movie gets into the battle with the AAU. This movie goes a step further and you get to see Bowerman having conflict with them too. What this movie has that the other one doesn't is the deliberateness of Pre's involvement with fighting the AAU and how that brings him closer to others. This became a lasting legacy for him. 
  • His competitiveness with Lasse Viren, the great Finnish runner really comes through more strongly in this movie. In fact, it was one of the main reasons Prefontaine has him fighting the AAU in the beginning. I was relieved that when he came in 4th in the Olympics, he bounced back much more quickly in this movie. In Without Limits, they dragged it on and really played out the self loathing. I'm not sure which one is more accurate but this one was much easier to process.
  • Prefontaine was the first time I have seen a reference to Pre being called "World" as in World class. The fans were chanting "World, World".
  • I didn't realize that he held every record between 2,000 and 10,000 meters. I don't think that has been equalled and it's hard to match with runners becoming more specialized.
  • I can't image what it must have been like to be the person who found him after he had crashed, be unable to lift the car off him and then know that he died from the car crushing his chest. Horrible.
  • The funeral at the track where the crowd shouts "Pre, Pre, Pre" on a countdown to the time he was hoping to beat in his next race was really awesome. Sad but awesome.
Brian Lanker's amazing photo of Pre

I was curious about Pre's rock and how the memorial came to be. My brief research led to a couple of interesting facts. Initially, the memorial was going to be a part of the rock the car hit but they decided to make it a stand–alone memorial. Pre helped start Oregon State Penitentiary's running program. Apparently, he was pretty committed to it and visited a number of times. It was the prisoners who donated the money for the plaque. Eugene Granite and Marble donated the headstone. Pre's dad asked Brian Lanker if he could his his famous photo. I didn't realize that runners leave running paraphernalia on Pre's rock when they visit. Pretty cool.
Pre's rock
Another fact I randomly came upon was a letter Pre wrote to Bill Rodgers, offering him a pair of Nike shoes to wear in the '75 Boston Marathon. Bill was a 4–time Boston Marathon winner who is well known for crossing the finish line in the Virginia 10–miler hand in hand with Frank Shorter. At this point in his career, he hadn't won big, although he had just taken a Bronze in the World Cross Country Championships in Morocco. He wore the shoes that Pre sent and took the course record. A few months later, Pre died. I never knew that he was actually an employee of Nike! There's even a business card to prove it. I knew that Nike had a building named after him and they put a memorial in Sports Illustrated. I had never seen this Nike Prefontaine tribute but it's pretty cool. It says "The look in Pre's eyes. Nobody else every had it like that. Sometimes when he ran, he was trance dancing. There were carpenters, mill workers, shopkeepers in the bleaches at Hayward's Field. A competitor once said the cheering for Pre was so deafening, you almost wanted to stop running. He ran the kind of race that made spectators yearn. Pre died in a 1975 car crash and it just about broke everyone's heart. What would we have done with distance when he was 25 or 30 years old? He placed 4th in the '72 Olympic five thousand and would have been 25 at the next Olympics. How far could he have gone? He didn't get a chance. We didn't get a chance to know. What does a great runner who died almost twenty years ago have to do with Nike running shoes? Everything."

"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." — Steve Prefontaine

See all the running movies I have seen to date.


  1. that was a moving piece you wrote about your daughter maggie

  2. I read it. I liked it. Now, I'm moving on. ;)


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