May 30, 2021 — I never watched him race in live (including on TV). In fact, I didn’t even know who he was while he was alive and competing. First time I heard of him was in 1980 in a one-page article about “Steve Prefontine” in a special “sneaker” edition of fashion magazine(!!) in Japan In 1980. A small athletic shoe company from quiet state of Oregon in USA was about to make a giant leap into the world of athletics. A revolutionary (in many ways) “athletic shoes”, Nike Waffle Trainer, were introduced in Japan while I was still in Japan in mid-1970s. I was in high school and they were too expensive for me!! (I believe they were something like $35…). There was a special section for this new company called “Nike” and the story of “Pre” was one of the topics. A simple article; but it certainly gave me an impression. A few months later, I came to America — Washington State. The first running magazine I picked up in a bookstore in Seattle was “The Runner” with Marty Liquori on the cover. Then the first “book” I picked up, at Don Kardong’s “Human Race” in Spokane, WA, was the original “PRE!” by Tom Jordan. I made a copy of Steve Prefontaine, training bare-chested, running on what-I-thought-at-the-time as “Pre’s Trail” (Linda told me later that actual “Pre’s Trail” was not built until AFTER her brother had passed away), as well as the back cover of his portrait with Jack London’s poem and posted them on the wall of my dorm room.
While I did not know much about him at all while he was competing, I feel like my path had crossed with many people whose lives actually had crossed personally with “Pre”. When I visited Bill Bowerman at his house in 1997 and sat down on the picnic table in their backyard, I remember thinking, “This is where “Pre” sat…!!” (of course, I never actually saw him there but the idea came from the movie “Without Limits”!!). Bill brought out an old duffle bag, full of old Nike shoes. I spotted blue and red spike shoes with white “Swoosh” which I assumed were the ones Pre used to wear. When I visited Jeff Johnson at his New Hampshire house, he had a framed autographed picture of “Pre”. And, of course, my oldest friend in the USA, Don Kardong, used to compete against “Pre”!! It is cool and a real joy to actually hear “Pre” stories from people like Bill or Jeff or Don!
Last summer, I had become friends with Linda Prefontaine — Pre’s sister. It turned out she enjoys photography and nature…as I do. So we hit it off. I enjoy chatting with her and enjoy her being who she is; not some famous runner’s sister. So I don’t really talk to her about “Pre”. But this one occasion, I did mention about her brother — it was early spring here in MN in the drizzling rain. I was in Oregon in the fall of 1982 and….I wasn’t too fond of drizzling rain of Oregon!! We now live right by the trail through wooded area and, when it’s raining, it often reminds me of Oregon. “This reminds me of Oregon,” I messaged Linda. “And I’m dreading to go for a run…”. “My brother (Pre) would have thought nothing of it,” she said. “He was training all the time, rain or shine…”. Well, how could I NOT get out and run after that!! Like I said, I didn’t quite grow up picking up Pre’s performances or records. But, to me, more than his fast running or records or championship titles, THIS is Pre’s legacy — his work ethic and attitude toward training. With all the “cool” commercials and advertisements with Pre, and his records and accomplishments, I actually hope young people get this legacy of Pre more than anything.
Forty-six years ago, Pre ran a 5,000m race at University of Oregon’s famous Hayward Field on May 29th. After the competition, he joined a post-race party at Geoff Holister’s house. Shortly after midnight (on May 30th), he left the party but, on the winding roads near Hendricks Park, he got a car accident, trying to avoid a collision with an ascending car, ended his young life full of potential, hopes and promises. I still remember this one Nike ad which is so true (that’s why it stuck to my memory): “Pre — we hardly knew you…”. We were left wondering what he could have accomplished…. But his legacy — of his work ethic and attitude to training — shall not be forgotten as long as we continue talking of “how he lived” and, therefore, his spirit lives on. — Nobby Hashizume (*I’d like to dedicate this piece to my good friend, Linda Prefontaine)