A barbershop appointment calendar with what was likely the last time American distance running legend Steve Prefontaine ever signed his name recently sold for almost USD $2,000.
In what’s still one of the saddest left-us-too-early stories in sports, “Pre” died in a car accident on May 30 1975 at the age of just 24. At the time, he was unquestionably the best distance runner in the US and one of the world’s top medal contenders to win 5,000m and/or 10,000m gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
A product of the University of Oregon’s outstanding track program and coached by the iconic Bill Bowerman, Prefontaine was and is an inspiration to anyone who has ever laced up a pair of (Nike) cross-country racing shoes. On the day before he died, he’d made a haircut appointment – but then came back into the shop and crossed his name out, telling owner Pete Peterson he’d decided to focus instead on an upcoming race.
Peterson, who recently sold the barbershop (and the appointment book with its famous page), knew Pre from their U of O track days. He corroborates stories of his teammate’s legendary natural distance-running gifts: “I was friends with one of the investigators of his accident,” said Peterson, “and they said his autopsy showed he had twice the normal lung capacity of a normal human.”
Prefontaine once said he could stand more pain than anyone else he was racing against, and his stellar career on the track and the cross-country course attests to how far he was willing to go to win. Forty-one years after his death, his name is still magical far beyond the Hayward Field he built into a track shrine of worldwide repute.