This is Jeff Benjamin’s interview with Seb Coe on the late Steve Prefontaine and Wonders of Hayward Field.
Sebastian Coe On Steve Prefontaine
By Jeff Benjamin
During the calm morning prior to the start of day two’s Prefontaine Classic, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe (like many who make the pilgrimage to the vaunted newly built Hayward Field) began to reminisce on that mystical force of the spirit and legacy of Steve Prefontaine.
“I didn’t know Steve,” said Coe, who has always prided himself as a student of the Sport. “He was a pretty seismic figure in my developing years.”
During the 1970s, Coe, like every track fan and geek either in America or overseas, had to await the arrival of either the daily newspaper reports (it had to be big news!) or magazines like Track & Field News and Athletics Weekly to know what was going on. “I remember Prefontaine’s gritty front running performances, which became his trademark, and it was a strategy I kind of followed, especially during the 1970’s.”
top left: Seb Coe on SI cover, Jeff Benjamin, Seb Coe about 1992, Jeff and Seb Coe, 2016, Seb Coe note, from the Jeff Benjamin archives
While knowing Prefontaine only in spirit (Prefontaine died in 1975), Coe and his father/coach Peter, beginning in 1979, did become close with many in the “Pre Circle” from that growing shoe company blossoming in Beaverton.
“My father and I did know Bill Bowerman and, to my Dad especially, he said, “You are a kindred spirit.”
Steve Prefontaine, from book, Following Pre, by Don Chadez
Coe is also really hot to know another Oregonian – 1972 Marathon Olympian, Kenny Moore, during that time, as well as he journeyed to England in 1979 to do a profile piece on the Coe duo for Sports Illustrated.
In a way, I got to know Steve Prefontaine through the ethos of Bill and Kenny,” said Coe.
“Through Kenny and Bill, I learned a lot about him.”
Coe then reminisced about the time he ALMOST raced at Hayward Field against his great rival Steve Ovett!
“In 1982, through Brad Hunt, Steve and I were able to finally agree to a schedule of three head-to-head matchups at distances of 800, the mile, and 3000 meters,” said Coe, with the 3000 scheduled for Hayward!
“Unfortunately, Steve suffered a serious leg injury, and then I was beginning to get ill, so by 1983, it didn’t happen for either of us.”
“One of my regrets was never getting a chance to race here,” said Coe, regretful but also admitting the mystic passions here in Eugene still permeate to this day.
“I would have been honored to race here.”
“You still do feel the presence of history here as well as the legacy of Steve Prefontaine, which still lives on.”