Steve Prefontaine - Without Limits

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Politics - The AAU

  AAU picture with white tape

Pre's fight with the AAU

In the picture to the left is me on the victory stand in Finland (1974). Pre asked me to put white tape over the letters AAU on my USA patch which I didn't understand at the time but I complied. Roughly the before & after picture of the patch looked like ...

  "Goaded on by a capacity crowd and pushed by US teammate Steve Stageberg (c) and Soviet Vladimir Afonin (r), young Steve Prefontaine pushed to an American record in the 5000-meters of 13:30.4. Stageberg ran a fine 13:35.6 in second with Afonin third at 13:49.0." Kroot photo

A 1971 example:

The picture to the left is the 7/3/71 USA vs USSR race in Berkeley.  This is an example of the type of international races that the AAU orchestrated and regulated at the time.  To the AAU credit ... they staged major events that funded their operations and put track & field on an international stage.  Note the big crowd in the background and the meet was covered on 1971 televison. Pre easily ran to an American record in this race in front of a large supportive USA crowd. But Pre received little or no money which eventually irked him.  Pre later rebelled because he needed the compensation to train against the best in the world ... and he wanted control over his competition schedule so he could compete against the best in the world.

[From  I July 1971 Track & Field News]   "Goaded on by a capacity crowd and pushed by US teammate Steve Stageberg (c) and Soviet Vladimir Afonin (r), young Steve Prefontaine pushed to an American record in the 5000-meters of 13:30.4.  Stageberg ran a fine 13:35.6 in second with Afonin third at 13:49.0."   Kroot photo 



"Foreign Travel Permits:  AAU Doesn't Own Athletes"  

[II May 1971 excerpt from T&F News]  More trouble is brewing between the AAU and the athletes it governs.  Unless the officials display more wisdom than they sometimes have the blow-up is certain.  And it will be big.    ... 

An American trackman wishing to compete abroad must obtain a permit from the AAU ... 

If it were mandatory to issue such a permit to any registered amateur athlete there would be no problem.  But the AAU at times has used the permit as an instrument to achieve its will. ... 

This summer, for instance, the quadrennial Pan Am Games will be held in Cali, Colombia.  ... But to the vastly superior American trackathlete, the Pan AM thing often means little more than a trip.  ...  But many an [American] athlete would prefer to do something else, to be elsewhere.  ... 

Well enough, you might say, let those who are interested vie for the team and let those who prefer to compete in Europe do so.  Ah, but it is not that easy.  At this point the AAU may decide to step in and say, "No go.  It's the Pan Am Games or stay home." ... 

Ollan Cassell ... "But if a guy is good enough for the AAU meet, he has to go to the meet before getting a travel permit," ... 

We hope Ollan was misquoted.  There should be no connection betwen competing in the AAU championships and a foreign travel permit.  The AAU does not own the athletes. ... 

How then can the AAU, in good conscience, even consider making a foreign travel permit dependent upon anything other than being a registered (and therefore amateur) ahtlete?  What business is it of the AAU if a trackman doesn't want to compete in the AAU?  Or if he places high in the AAU and doesn't want to be on the national team?  There should be no withholding of permits, not even an implied threat of such an action. ... 

To summarize, the AAU owns no part of the athlete and is morally wrong in attempting to control his actions.

"Of People & Things"  

[November 1973 excerpt from T&F News]  I'm not easily shocked, especially not by the AAU after all the suprising actions it has taken.  But I must admit I was most startled by a decision of the men's track and field committee at the recent AAU convention. 

The committee ruled that no athlete may compete abroad during the 10 days immediately prior to the AAU nationals or for the five days before all international dual meets.  By so doing, the committee told this nation's trackmen that they are not free men.  They are, according to this rule, as much in the bondage of the AAU as professional athlete is to his contract holder. 

Undoubtedly the commmittee acted out of good motives.  It sought to redress the problem of top athletees going off to Europe on their own and not being available for the US team.  But the end does not justify the means.. 

Prefontaine's comments   

[1974 excerpt from T&F News]  "I'm not going to run in the AAU championships."  Thus Steve Prefontaine threw down the gauntlet to the AAU and its international competition moratorium. 

"I'm going to compete all through their moratorium," continued Pre, "and if they want to take me to court, that's fine with me.  I can take them for all they're worth. 

"What does it prove running the AAU meet?  The AAU doesn't care about the athletes;  why should I care about them?  I'll find meets to run in Europe." 

My AAU Travel permit - Summer of 1974.  

June 3, 1974 


This is to certify that Mark Feig, Brent Peterson, and Steve Bence are amateur athletes in good standing and registered as such with the Oregon Association. 

This is to advise that they have our permission to compete in meets which have the sanction and approval of the governing body of the country holding membershhip in the IAAF, except moratorium dates June 11 - June 22 inclusive, and June 30 - July 6 inclusive. 

This permission is given with the understanding that the athletes concerned will not ask for or accept reimbursement for any expenses in connectoin with their travel to and from these countries.  However, all competitions in which Mr. Mark Feig, Brent Peterson, and Steve Bence participate, must submit to this office, a copy of the results and any consideraton that might have been advance to the athlete concerned. 

Any courtesies extended to Mr. Mark Feig, Brent Peterson, and Steve Bence will be greatly appreciated. 


Ollan C. Cassell 
Executive Direcory 

cc: Harold W. Heller 

NOTE:  This permit is not valid for competition from: 
      June 11 - Jun 22, inclusive 
      Jun 30 - july 6, inclusive 

My ledger from my training diary  

[My personal training diary dated 6/19/74]  Helsinki, FInland.  Yesterday I was beginning to think this whole trip is a waste.  We talked to the meet promoter in Oslo and he wouldn't sign us up for the meet yet.  We talked to Knut {Kvalheim} and he made it sound as though it would be close to impossible to get into any meets.  We talked to a promoter in Stockholm and he directed us to the smaller towns.  The promoter n Helsinki told us to call back.  We were joking that we'd be back in Eugene in a week. 

We tried to call Pre but he was out so we went to the stadium.  We got ahold of the meet promoter and he had great news.  He lined us up for three meets ... the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd.  Our AAU permit doesn't allow us to compete before the 23rd but we're desperate for competion so we'll compete.  We may be in for a hassel later from the AAU. 

{My log of races and my payments which seem small today but extremely improper at the time.  The "x" denotes races that I ran which were during the moratorium and in violation of our AAU travel permits.  I was determined to stay in Europe until I made a profit on the trip} 

Date   City Distance Place Time Received
6/21 x Kauhava 800 2nd 1:52.3 $27
6/22 x Kourtane 800 1st 1:51.5 $27
6/23 Saarijarvi 800 1st 1:50.2 $27
6/26 Raahe 1500 1st 3:58.0 $52
5/28 Skellefteo 800 3rd 1:51.7 $75
6/29 x Vindeln 800 2nd 1:48.8 $50
7/3 x Oulu 1500 3rd 3:49.5 $359
7/5 x Harnosand 1500 7th 3:52.2 $72
7/12 Vastervicks 800 1st 1:50.3 $86
7/18 Stockholm 800 4th 1:47.3 $66
7/23 Piteo 800 1st 1:52.3 $154
8/1 Helsinki Mile Rabbit $101
8/2 Karlstad 800 3rd 1:50.0 $73
8/4 Umeo 800 3rd 1:49.5 $183
8/5 Eskilstuna 800 3rd 1:50.4 $176
  "    " 400 4th 49.4
Total received $1,528
Spent (incl. plane) $1,395
Profit for summer $  133

Excerpts from my journal  

7/3/74  Oulu, Finland.  I laid around and then jogged to the track with Juris {Luzins} and Jeff {Galloway} at about 9:30pm.  It was rainy out.  Mark {Feig} couldn't compet in the meet today.  The AAU banned him so he tried to call the AAU collect.  No luck. 

I had trouble collecting my money.  I wanted about $160 for a round trip ticket to Stockholm.  They didn't even have my name on a list ... {note: through a mistake on their part, they eventually reimbursed me $359!  ... which was the price for round trip expenses to Germany.} 

I paid Mark's train ticket and gave him an additional $30.  I felt sorry that he couldn't compete. 

Unpatriotic PRE?   

[1975 Track & Field News]  "To hell with love of country.  I compete for myself," he said in a Denver interview carried by Associated Press in late March. 

Pre, who had been training at high altitude with Frank Shorter for a month, went on to blast the American amateur athletics setup. 

"I'll tell you, if I decide to compete at Montreal, to make all the sacrifices necessary, I'll be a poor man.  If you're not a millionaire, there's no way." 

Pre returned to Eugene and, perhaps cooled by the familiar Oregon rains, explained his statements. 

"I said those things," he admitted in a Eugene Register-Guard story.  "But not in the context they came out in the wire stories . . .  The way the wire services carried the story didn't make the distinction between my frustration as an athlete and my feeling for my country in general.  I don't consider myself unpatriotic." 

Pre feels there will be a large exodus of American track athletes to the pros after the Montreal Olympics.  He has rejected pro track offers, so far, (including a recent "big one") though he says he plans to consider them again after Montreal. 

"We need to set up national training camps supported by big business and other interested groups," he concluded.  "We're too pro-oriented in this country, and nothing is done for the amateur athlete after he gets out of college.  I think we'll see in Montreal that we're falling further and further behind the European countries." 

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