No runner captured the imagination like Steve Prefontaine—and no runner had a mouth quite like him, either.
His words were often as thrilling as his racing style—oozing with confidence and a lust for competition, yet also straightforward, honest and direct, which, according to everyone close to him, is the only way Pre ever knew how to be.
Below are 14 of our favorite Pre quotes.
Stay tuned for more on our month-long coverage of Steve Prefontaine. We’ll be adding new stories, videos and photos on the running legend throughout the month.
“Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”
—One of Pre’s most famous, and apparently favorite, quotes. Several of the 40 people we interviewed for our “Pre Lives On” feature story in the May 2015 issue recalled Pre uttering this. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it.”
—Pre was fond of describing his racing style in dramatic fashion, just as he was always forthcoming about how he was going to run a race. There was never much mystery to him. (Photo: Rich Clarkson)
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
—Pre’s closing line at many of the youth camps, clinics, and school speeches he’d give. It’s a fitting personal doctrine for a man always on the go, who worked hard, played hard, yet never missed training. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“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 style. It’s doing something better than everyone else. It’s being creative.”
—Although on the track he had an alpha-dog persona, off the track Pre was artistically minded. He spent many hours in high school in the drafting room, took up photography in college, and majored in broadcast media. He took an artistic, emotive approach to his running as well. (Photo: Rich Clarkson)
“No one will ever win a 5,000-meter by running an easy two miles. Not against me.”
—Pre never gave anyone an easy race, and while not everyone appreciated his bluster, competitors came to respect him for his desire to always race all-out. Because of this, racing Pre became a sort of measuring stick for everyone else. (Photo: Rich Clarkson)
“The best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”
—Pre smartly played up his reputation as an all-out racer, which no doubt got inside the heads of many of his competitors. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.”
—Unlike many elites, Pre’s running style was anything but elegant. Yet in the way he powered—practically forced—himself around the track, lap by lap, spectators could feel exactly how much effort he was putting in, and his races were elevated to an actual performance, not just an athletic competition. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“There are big odds against me. Nobody under 25 has ever won the Olympic five. But if everything goes right, whoever wins will know he has been in one helluva race.”
—The essence of a great Pre quote: humility mixed with wide-eyed excitement, a dash of showmanship and a bit of swagger. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“I’ll tell you one thing, I love every one of them. I’ve thought about the Olympic Games every day of my life since 1968, but there is a breaking point in each race when you wonder if all the sacrifice is really worth it. You think ‘why should I do this? I don’t have to run this hard.’ But that’s when I think about them. They keep me going.”
—Prefontaine had an unbreakable, symbiotic relationship with his fans at Hayward Field, where he never lost a race longer than a mile. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, push himself even more.”
—Quite simply, the essence of Pre’s racing style. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“What I like most about track is the feeling I get after a good run.”
(Photo: Kennett Mohrman)
“What I want is to be number one.”
—Pre’s coaches at Oregon, Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger, used to jokingly call him “Rube,” for his plainspoken, earnest way with everyone. When asked about his goals, Pre was never shy about saying exactly what he aimed for. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“I felt like I should have made my sprint earlier.”
—First uttered during Pre’s freshman year of college, it came to be a familiar refrain when he spoke to reporters. (Photo: Jeff Johnson)
“It really gets grim until the competition begins. You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”
—Even Prefontaine, with his enormous capacity for training and resistance to injury, didn’t always like workouts—even though he famously never missed a single one in college. (Photo: Kennett Mohrman)