Steve Prefontaine’s path can be told by his singlets— each represents a step in his journey. His high school singlets cloaked a fierce fighter wrought with insecurity. His college singlets adorned an invincible adonis. His international singlets speak of heroic folly, and his last singlet marked him for death.
The young Prefontaine warmed benches at Marshfield High School. He was too small for any team sports, so he took to cross-country with self-conscious vigor. The first varsity jersey he wore was a glossy-purple cross-country singlet with a winged “M,” slightly off-center. He finished 53 at state championships but charged out with the leaders, eager to prove himself against the older athletes. Though not yet unbeatable, young Pre had already developed his gasping, desperate finishing face, as well as the impish grin of someone who knows he is destined for great things.
In college, Steve Prefontaine became iconic. He took races out at impossible paces and with a thunderous crowd pushing him to spectacular finishes. He’d answer their call with a cock of his head and an arch of his spine, charging down the last straight with his mouth agape and his eyes rolled back. So epic, so inevitable, were his battles that he began to seem supernatural to fans. When he stepped onto the track, clad like the sun in an ethereal Oregon singlet (the first to ever feature heat-pressed logos), the clouds would part for his presence. At Hayward Field, Pre began his ascension to mythical figure.