“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
“Legacy lives beyond the individual.”
Phil Pursian, Pre´s trainer during high school
A new documentary has been released on January 25th to commemorate what would have been Steve Prefontaine´s 70th anniversary. Available in Vimeo, the link is included at the end of this post.
A well-known US athlete, Steve Prefontaine, or Pre as he was commonly known, deserved this documentary focused on his early years in high school, the Marshfield High School (MHS). His early tragic departure, when he was only 25, deprived us of the runner about whom legendary coach Bill Bowerman wrote “He will become the greatest runner in the world”.
This documentary brings back his figure for a new generation of runners all over the world.
We had the chance to interview Travis Johnson (TJ) and Brad Jenkins (BJ), executive producers of “Pre´s People”, and graduates themselves from Marshfield High School in 1981, the same high school which Pre attended in Coos Bay and where he started his successful running career.
Hi, you both and thanks for agreeing to do this interview. We have really enjoyed watching Pre´s People. As the title says, you have focused the documentary on Pre´s “people”. Under this definition you have included his fans, friends, rivals, coaches and so on, and the effects that his figure still has on his native town of Coos Bay, Oregon.
When did you start thinking about making this documentary?
BJ: The beginning thoughts began in 2010.
TJ: Brad found a poster from a track invitational with runners from Finland that Pre himself had put together. He shared some copies of the track meet poster and from there people were telling cool stories about Pre. That’s when Brad approached me to help put together a fresh new documentary with the angle of focusing on Pre’s Coos Bay roots…something that hadn’t been done before
We have seen that it has been a very long process in the making and that you launched two crowdfunding campaigns to finish its production. Was it difficult to get it completed?
BJ: Yes, the funding part was hard.
TJ: Yes. Most documentaries are passion projects. We were fortunate to find enough hard-core Pre fans that donated seed money through fundraising campaigns.
Did you originally plan to release it for Pre´s 70th anniversary?
BJ: The way things were going; we didn’t know if it would ever get finished.
TJ: No. We had a couple release dates prior to that in mind but weren’t 100% complete. It just happened to work out that Pre’s 70th birthday matched up for when we finished.
Were you born in the Coos Bay area?
BJ: I was not born in Coos Bay, but I arrived at an early age. The fun part is, I walked high school graduation with the same group I went to kindergarten with.
TJ: Yes, I was born and raised in Coos Bay along with my mother and brothers. Brad and I met in kindergarten and have been friends ever since.
We have seen the importance you have given to the influence that this community of hard-working people had on Pre´s generation in trying to excel in everything, including sports.
BJ: Sports are big at MHS. At the time, MHS was the biggest high school on the Oregon coast. We played the Eugene league. My Senior year MHS placed 3rd in state in basketball and came close to beating AC Green/Benson HS for the state title.
TJ: Pre’s attitude of “work hard and good things will happen” came from his parents and the blue-collar work ethic in Coos Bay. The people Pre and us grew up around were tough and hard-nosed, but also a tight community. Everybody knew everyone. Growing up on the coast you were around a lot of guys that worked in the woods and timber industry, plus commercial fishermen. These guys also had mental toughness…climbing tall tree’s to harvest; or risking their lives in the ocean to fish for salmon and crab. The other part to Pre’s success was the coaching staff at Marshfield. Some were veterans so they were like drill sergeants. Head track coach Walt McClure’s father was an Olympian, and both had run for the University of Oregon. So good pedigree.
You went both to Marshfield High School, and as we can see in a picture at the end of the documentary you also practiced sports. Did Pre influence you taking sports in high school?
BJ: It wasn’t just Pre, it was the Pirate program and high calibre coaches that wanted me to play sports. When you are a Marshfield Pirate, you are the hottest item in town.
TJ: Summer track programs at Marshfield was a big thing when we were kids. Our parents signed us up at an early age and we were exposed right away to great coaches who pushed for excellence.
You were lucky enough to see Pre running a few weeks before his death. Can you tell us anything about how you remember the town took the death of his most renowned figure? We saw in the documentary that it made headlines all over the press.
BJ: Coos Bay was devastated. On the day of Pre’s funeral, the whole school district shut down at noon. I rode my bike from elementary school to Pre’s funeral at MHS track, now called Prefontaine track.
TJ: I can remember cars lined up as far as the eye could see. The track stands were packed. It was very surreal… especially after just seeing him set a new American record in the 2,000 meters just a few weeks before. I believe that record still stands today!
This documentary excels in all its first-person interviews and a lot of unseen recordings from Pre´s high school years. Was it difficult to find and interview so many talented runners from Pre´s generation and his coaches, Walt McClure and Phil Pursian? We are still amazed of seeing the original training records of Pre in your film.
BJ: Yes, so were we. We called it the “Pre bible”. Coach Pursian was the holy grail Pre interviewee. We are still surprised that he was never interviewed by any another Pre´s production.
TJ: We were fortunate in that Brad’s dad, Tom Jenkins, used to be the Athletic Director for Marshfield. So, he was instrumental in helping us locate a lot of folks in our film. Coach Pursian has a room at his home completely dedicated to cool things about his time coaching Pre. Pursian shared his personal coaching logs of Pre and other athletes of that era; memorabilia that Pre gave him; and a lot of old photos never seen before. We struck gold with that visit.
BJ: I also liked the scene when we ran into Mo Farah at the pancake house in Eugene, what are the odds of that happening?
TJ: We were able to capture several surprise moments that were special because a lot of these guys haven’t seen each other since high school… some 40-plus years later! For example, Pre’s teammates hadn’t seen Coach Pursian and two of Pre’s biggest competitors in high school saw each other for the first time in decades too!
BJ: And McClure, it was a stroke of luck we found him at a MHS fund raising event. We got a quick interview with him and he has since passed away. On that sad note, three other interviewees have also passed since we began filming “Pre’s People”.
Do you think that as much Coos Bay and Marshfield High School influenced Pre, his legacy has also influenced them both?
TJ: So, the question is, did Pre influence Coos Bay and Marshfield? Not sure, but Pre put Coos Bay on the map. Anytime I tell someone I’m from Coos Bay, they ask is that the town that runner is from.
BJ: I think that Pre’s examples of tenacity and work ethic has been passed to a new generation of runners in Coos Bay. The cool thing is long distance runners today train on the same hills, beaches and sand dunes that Pre did. Some have said “it feels like he’s out there with us”. How lucky these runners are to be able to literally run in his same footsteps. The rugged terrain of Coos Bay would make any runner tough!
As we finished watching the documentary, we feel that there is more to tell. Would you like to film a follow-up focused on Pre´s later years? With so many streaming platforms it could be an interesting story, maybe to get in on time for Pre´s 75th anniversary.
TJ: Great minds think alike “Pre’s People 2” for the Tik Tok crowd, is already being discussed.
BJ: Maybe. Our goal now is to raise as much money as we can to donate to Marshfield’s track and cross-country programs as a way to say “thanks” to our community in Pre’s honour.
In line with the previous question… Did you watch the two films about Pre´s life “Prefontaine”, from 1997, and “Without limits”, from 1998? Did you like them? Maybe would be time for a new biopic on his figure.
TJ: Those are two great films. I’m thinking something like a box set with those two films, “Pre’s People”, and “Fire on the Track” is in order. We will get 30 Seconds to Mars to include a CD. And a Jared Leto autographed poster.
BJ: Yes. Those were fun films to watch…but again, most of it focused on Pre’s success at the University of Oregon and beyond. That’s why we’re so glad to have captured so many great stories from the people of Coos Bay… “Pre’s People.”
Thanks a lot for answering our questions.
We wish you good luck and a lot of success for your documentary.
Pre was undeniably a talented runner that dominated the distances ranging from the 2000 to the 10000 metres between the late 1960´s and early 1970´s, breaking 14 national records and standing out in cross-country and track & field disciplines. His disappointing 4th place in the 10000 metres at the Olympics of Munich 1972 showed that he was also human, but his drive and perseverance gave him an undeniable deserved place as one of the most influential runners of modern history.
“Pre´s People” is out now on:
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