Without Limits (1998)

Five days staying in a room not going out isn’t that great for the mind, body, or soul. I managed to do that. I went out to my friend’s place to have lunch, we chatted for a while, and then I went shopping for some groceries before heading back to The Apartment.

I spent those days watching movies, a hell of a lot of movies, reading few things on the internet, sleeping, just about cooking to satisfy the hunger bug, and few visits to the toilet. I had not touched the main door of my apartment. I managed to survive, although this routine had given birth to certain ghosts. It had because, I can safely say, I am burying them with this blog.

In 2005 when I won the Sports Quiz at NLS (National Law School, India), I missed a question. I felt terrible that I didn’t know about it. There is nothing to feel bad about it in hindsight, but you see, my heart was shaped that way.

It feels like the itch of not knowing certain things. For a while, it itches. The mind then takes over and I don’t know about the itch and how old it is. In my case, it was a four-year itch.

Thinking about the athlete whose name I missed has given me a chance to see life from a different perspective and something I was looking for at the end of 5 days. It was not a panache but did have some ‘Mojo’ to bury the ghosts. I feel the change as I continue to write.

The question I missed was about a man who died at the age of 24. I am 24 now.

He was the best athlete the American distance running team had in the late ’60s and 1970s—a distance runner who had his ideology about running and winning.

Winning is nothing when you haven’t given your best.

It doesn’t feel the same when you win without giving one’s best. His coach tried to change his philosophy; he couldn’t. He represented the University of Oregon.

He shared a healthy relationship with the US running team coach, and they both agreed to disagree. Every time, they questioned each other’s fundamentals and philosophy of running and winning.

The first sign of protest came when the athlete took on AAU (Amateur Athletics Union) and demanded the athlete’s right to participate when qualified.

He was tipped as one of the favourites to win 5000m Olympic Gold in 1972 at Munich games, eventually losing out to Finland’s Lasse Viren. He finished 4th after leading the race till the last lap.

He couldn’t bear the loss.

He took some time out until he could come to terms with reality and distanced himself from his love. He hated so much that he didn’t have words to say to the one he loved.

Finally, he started training, refused an offer to turn professional, thereby kicking the chance to earn 200,000 dollars. He went to his coach and tried a new pair of shoes that his coach had made for him. He went for a run and agreed to be an Amateur and seek redemption at Montreal’s 1976 Olympics.

He raced pretty well in the trials, and he had planned to set a world record to win the 5000m in 12min 36 seconds. That was the time he had chosen, a world record back then.

Those were the last words he said to his friend. While on his way to his girlfriend, with whom he had just got good terms, he dropped his friend and met with an accident while foreseeing his race and commenting on his possible 1976 performance and how he would shatter the world record.

It wasn’t to be, his car was hit by another vehicle, and he was killed on May 30th, 1975.

I hope most of the readers are smarter than me; the athlete was Steve Pre Fontaine. Nicknamed ‘Pre,’ he was born on January 25th, 1951.

Now that name is on, I am sure there are better websites dedicated to providing his information in detail. I would just like to share few things:

  • In 1978, AAU agreed for athlete’s guarantee rights to compete wherever qualified.
  • The small shoe company which the coach had inadvertently had begun went on to became what we know today as ‘NIKE.’ The coach was none other than Bill Bowerman, founder of Nike.
  • ‘Without Limits’ made in 1998 is the movie’s name that depicts the life of ‘Pre’ played by Billy Crudup.

The final words by Bill Bowerman in the movie sums up ‘Pre’ –

“All my life, man and boy, I’ve operated under the assumption that the main idea in the running was to win the race. Naturally, when I became a coach, I tried to teach people how to do that. I tried to teach Pre how to do that. Tried like hell to teach Pre to do that. And Pre taught me. Taught me I was wrong. Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn’t necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I tried to get him to; God knows I tried… but… Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory. ‘A race is a work of art’; that’s what he said, that’s what he believed, and he was out to make it one every step of the way. Of course, he wanted to win. Those who saw him compete and those who competed against him were never in any doubt how much he wanted to win, but how he won mattered to him more. ‘Pre’ thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test the limits of the human heart. That he did… Nobody did it more often. Nobody did it better.” That’s the ending of the movie.

All I say – Watch the movie, don’t think whether to watch it or not – ‘JUST DO IT.’