As promised, here is the second of three parts for my interview with the ever-interesting Rick Riley. Today, the focus shifts to athletes today, as professionals. Rick has some definite opinions on athlete compensation.
For those that didn’t catch part one of the interview with Rick Riley, you can find that at Rick Riley, High School Running, Then and Now.
PAUL DUFFAU: Let’s shift the topic here a little bit. You mentioned that the athletes do not make any money at all, runners don’t really make any money. While we hear about some of the marathoners that can make some money, and some of the other athletes, but by and large, American athletes can’t make a living off their running.
We went into the professional system because in the old amateur area- you were probably right around that transition point- where they had pretty much control of everything and if they didn’t like you, you didn’t run.
We switched over to a professional system, but that hasn’t been proven to spread out the benefits to the second tier of athletes, so that they can go ahead and focus exclusively on training. I think conversations with people when they talk about their inherent advantages that the Kenyans have from a genetic standpoint, keep coming back to another point. They have mentioned that they can focus on their training much more because if you won a $5000 purse and you’re training in Kenya, you’re able to live on that for a year. Here, it’ll get you to a couple of months maximum, and you almost have to have some other jobs to go ahead and make ends meet while you’re training. Training at that level, is a full time job in itself.
RICK RILEY: I think the myth is that, the so called professional runner is able to make a living running, endorsements, contracts or whatever. It is such an infinitesimal number of athletes that are able to do this right now. When we hear about for instance, the Nike project, the Oregon Project, I guess that’s what it’s called, the athletes that are being coached by Alberto Salazar, there’s not really many. It’s a handful and I would say that they are handpicked and selected.
Like the Hansen project, where are they, Michigan?
PAUL DUFFAU: I think they are in Michigan.
RICK RILEY: There are a couple of things going on in the northeast. You know, back in the days when I was running, there were those scattered pockets as well. There was the Santa Clara Youth Village, stuff going on in the Los Angeles Track Club, going on with Mihaly Igloi, the Hungarian expatriate who came over and coached Jim Bailey and Bob Schul. He influenced people like Billy Mills and Jim Grelle. The guys sought out areas where they could go out after college and have an environment where they could hopefully run and train.
I mean, Jim Ryun moved out to Santa Monica because the weather was better and there wasn’t the pollen. When he went to Eugene that was a deal breaker, he couldn’t run in Eugene because of the pollen.
When I was in college, you looked at jobs, if you wanted to maintain your running career, that would allow you to train. The guys that I knew that were successful runners that were still training were guys like George Young, who was a teacher in Casa Grande, Arizona. What I didn’t know was George got up at 5:00 in the morning and ran and then he did classroom work. Then he did it after school again. He was all by himself.
I experienced that in my first year of teaching at Grand View. I was coached by mail, by Herm Caviness. I ran every day for 9 months by myself down there. Most of us who are on the elite level were given shoes by, let’s say, Adidas or Puma, and later, Nike. We didn’t have contracts, we didn’t sign anything.
“Hey, what do you need, you’re on our athletes list.”
You get a form in January, you filled that out, what you needed, the warm up shoes, the spike shoes, etcetera. As the professional thing came in to play, the goal as you said is to provide athletes with the opportunity to compete, to be able to be on par with say, the eastern Europeans. That was the biggest thing back then, the socialist states where the guys went to the army or like East Germany or whatever.
You mentioned the Kenyans where 5- or 10- or $20,000 here, that far exceeds their standard of living there. You know, last weekend up here, Herm Caveness, my former coach, re-instituted the [Spokane] summer games and they brought over some milers and they broke 4 minutes. One got $3500. Well, you know, in today’s world, $3500 is not even a good month’s wages.
PAUL DUFFAU: No.
RICK RILEY: Particularly, if you leave in San Francisco like AJ Acosta does. So, AJ is working as a barista, as a substitute teacher, and he’s trying to train to make it to the Olympics. The guy is a 3:53 miler. Comparing times or whatever, my 3:59 is probably the equivalent of a 353, 354 something back, maybe back then it’s probably the equivalent of a time like that today. Just comparing where you were on the world list, where you were, how many people have done that at that point in time.
I understand the struggle that he’s going through because the emphasis in this country is not on track and field. Certainly, the masses are in love with the marathon in road racing in larger cities, larger places like Boston and Chicago and New York. Local racing associations are only able to get enough corporate backing to support a race like that once in a while where they can give out adequate price money.
Once again, it is generally a select few and I think this money is fairly well spread out because you cannot run that many marathons that fast. It’s $100,000 per race, and if you win, you get $50 – 60,000. You may make half a million bucks. If you’re a miler, you can’t do that. They don’t get that kind of price money for milers. And so, we’re kind of right back to where we started from, you see a lot of runners go out from college. It would be interesting to track some of them to see exactly how long their career lasted.
The problem too with running like every athletic endeavor, it’s very short amount of time. I contend that you get about 5 to 7 years, at the very, very most. If you look at most of the great athletes of the world that have ever run, with a few exceptions, you get about 5 to 7 years that you’re able to perform at a peak level and then you get an injury and then you get another injury or maybe some sort of life change happen, you get married, your career changes.
It is a very short amount of time and it will be interesting to see how say, Jordan Hasay, out of University of Oregon, will performed. Athletes like Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, literally are in the end of their career. Once you get to your late 20s or late 30s, it’s starting to go away. There’s not anything that you can do for the most part. And unfortunately, there had been a few that have found a way to do it but were not legal.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: That’s another thing that’s come into the mix, the performance enhancing drugs that kind of puts a little cloud over you know, is it the trainee or is it the drug that is keeping these people successful but that’s another topic. The real crock here is that as a professional runner, the clock is ticking, you have limited amount of time to be successful. You’re going to be in a very, very infinitesimal amount, in a small group that’s making any money. If you look- I mean I haven’t subscribed Sports Illustrated for years and years-but pretty few runners have ever made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
PAUL DUFFAU: True.
RICK RILEY: I can think of 2 that I know of, Jim Ryun and Steve Prefontaine. When you think about the best known runners in American distance running history, you would probably pick, at least in recent memory, Pree and Ryun and Frank Shorter.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: You could go backwards, dig back in time, there certainly, have been others but these are names that stick out and even on the world level, very, very few runners tend to be recognizable in the context of America.
I think that’s interesting you know, we’ve gone away from the mile, okay, bring back the mile because the runners that we have given the most attention and memory to have been milers.
PAUL DUFFAU: Yeah.
RICK RILEY: If you want to be in the romanticize events, run the mile. I mean that’s the one that people relate to. I probably had gotten more memory mileage out of my sub 4-man mile than any other race that I ran. To tell you the truth, even though I ran great in high school mile, that was not really my event but that’s what people remembered me for.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right. Steve Scott made a living off of it as much as he could. One of the reasons why he probably never broke the world record because he was trying to make a living at it- he couldn’t just target his events and train towards one peak effort. If you’re out there trying to earn a living- which is one of the reasons why he holds the record for the most sub 4-man miles, you have to be racing. But you are right, it [the mile] used to be the premier event and it’s kind of fallen back. I’m not 100% sure why that would be the case but certainly the 5K has become much more popular in terms of professional race systems and then the marathon, those seem to be the two biggies.
RICK RILEY: Those would be, and I think part of it is because we’ve gone a long way from the English system, too. I literally go crazy with the 1600m, 3200m because they’re so close to a mile and a 2-mile. Nowhere, internationally, does anybody run 1600 and 3200, they run 1500 which is a heck of a stupid race. It is, it’s such a crazy race.
1600m and 3200m, when we’re talking about 1.6 seconds difference between a mile and 1600, why don’t we just run a mile. And I think, because of that, at the high school level and then when these kids get to college, they pretty much run the 1500m except in indoor competition. At the occasional invitational, they’ll run a mile. It’s kind of made some Americans conscious but I think in the end, you revive running the mile then I think you’ll get people’s interest back.
At least in my opinion, track and field is obviously not any worst routine than professional football, professional baseball whatever but because there’s such emphasis put on the Olympics when somebody does get caught, they make a big deal out of it. I mean, everyday, it’s not only baseball, but that we don’t know about or major league baseball players getting swapped a suspension because he got caught using some illegal substance.
I know for certain guys like Gerry Lindgren, guys like Steve Prefontaine, guys like Frank Shorter and guys like Jim Ryun, like myself, there wasn’t anything else that they’re going to take that they can be better. I don’t know what is what, there is a multitude of things that people can use that are not just illegal but they’re undetectable. I think sometimes there’s a bit of a public perception, are we really seeing the best runner, for instance or have we seen a guy that’s has a better chemist than the next guy.
PAUL DUFFAU: And that’s a shame.
RICK RILEY: And it is a shame.
Why not the glamor on the mile? I think part of it has just that we’ve diluted distances that in some respect made some sense to the American public.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right. I wonder how much of it too because when you run a mile, you can do a fair number of miles and you talk a look again at Steve Scott, he was always chasing Sebastien Coe and Steve Cram. and you can get your hands and duel in effect. You can do it in a mile and meet every couple of months, try and get revenge. You can’t do that in a marathon because you’re only running 2 events probably for a year.
So, as you pointed out earlier, everything can’t get spread out, so you lose that head to head kind of “I’m going to take this person down, we’re going to set a new record doing it.”
Which I think leads to one of my questions about Steve Prefontaine. When he went out to race, he went out to win, period. He’d take on all comers and it wasn’t a matter of, “I’m going to go ahead and pace myself” because I need this to last 6 months [like a marathoner]- he put everything he had out on the track that day. And consequences be damned.
RICK RILEY: Well, I think too, whenever we’re in Europe, we ran a dual against Germany in Stuttgart. There are stadiums are just dedicated to track and field. It’s not a soccer field, it’s a track and field stadium. It’s designed to seat about 12,000 to 15,000 people. They are right up close to the track. The outer lane of the track butts right up against the side of the grandstand and these people are extremely knowledgeable about the people that are competing in the race. It’s kind of like if we’re watching a football game, the Raiders versus the Seahawks for instance, people know who the good running backs are. They know quarterback ratings, they know where the guy went to school, where he did go to bed.
You know, we don’t know all those things about our track and field athletes.
Our entire emphasis in this country is placed upon the Big Three and that’s, football, basketball and baseball. It’s interesting because there are literally, I think on a participation basis, more runners.
I like cross country, I tell to people who’ve never been to cross country meet, you’ve got to see it to believe it. You’ve got to experience to go down there and see all of the team tents that are set up, and all of the colors, and the race after race going on. These kids out there just laying everything down on that golf course, and it’s an amazing sight. More amazing than the one I ran. I’ll tell you what, it always thrills me to see an event like that because it’s so pure, it’s literally so pure that it’s just kids running, and running for the sake of running.
You get done, and the good ones get up and medals hang around their neck and they go home. It’s just a very pure endeavor. I tell every kid who runs in a state meet, you’ll never forget this in your whole life. You’ll forget tomorrow your AP test score that you got in AP English, but you will never forget standing on a podium on a state track meet. You’ll never forget that. You’ll never forget running in front of that crowd out of Pasco or wherever you were or me, running at Pullman. Even on the lesser runs, that is a huge, huge deal and that’s very pure.
Unfortunately, as a sport-adoring public, the emphasis is not in that sport. It’s too bad, it’s kind of a sad thing. There are pockets obviously, Millrose, the Drake Relays, Texas Relays, the Eugene, -the culture that is at Eugene at Hayward’s field that appreciate track and field athletes. Those are pretty special environments. There is not a lot. Back in the days, where I saw that more than anything else was indoor meets, 10,000 to 12,000 people packing an indoor arena where everything was up close and the events went off on schedule, lots of action and people love that.
PAUL DUFFAU: That seems to be more in the East Coast and Midwest thing, though. I grew up in the East Coast.We had indoor track around there. You would think with our weather, it’ll be a natural but it’s not.
RICK RILEY: You know, when I ran in high school, the Seattle Indoor, I ran, I don’t know how many years, 2 years in high school, maybe 2 years in college. Up and down the West Coast, there was a meet in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and then you have San Francisco Examiner meet, the LA Times meet, the San Diego indoor meet, kind of an indoor circuit that athletes ran on. Of course, that just goes back to what the under the table money and stuff like that. At the same time later, the outdoor thing, most of the meets where in California because of the weather. But a lot of that has changed, definitely changed.
PAUL DUFFAU: Yeah, I’d like to see some of that come back. I came across the story not too long ago where a guy bought an old warehouse [in North Carolina] and turned it into an indoor track. If I had a spare 3 or 4 million dollars, it seems like a grand idea.
RICK RILEY: Absolutely, I would do something like that in this area. John Stockton, the basketball player bought an old warehouse and it’s just called the Warehouse and he remodeled it into a series of basketball courts and kids play down there all year long.
PAUL DUFFAU: That is very cool.
RICK RILEY: I don’t know if there’s even any fees attached. Maybe a small fee but you know, it’s very user friendly, it’s multiple courts, not privy for fans or anything like that but it’s a participation thing I mean, the teens of every level, kids of every level, everybody plays them. And it’s a wonderful thing that he’s done. I would love to be in a position where I could do something like that and stick a 220 [see, I still do the old distances], a 200 meter track, an indoor facility and hold a series of high school, college meets during the winter. It’ll be wonderful to be able to do that.
PAUL DUFFAU: Yeah, it will be really neat. I know the University of Idaho has an indoor track, but they only have one all-comers meet.
RICK RILEY: I think they have all-comers then they might have one collegiate meet. WSU does the same thing.
PAUL DUFFAU: Okay, I didn’t know that they had an indoor.
RICK RILEY: I was there, we ran on a, it was a dirt floor in the field and an unheated field house and we ran on a 220 yard dirt track basically. They would oil the track. I mean, in my head, I can still smell that. Wentworth is the same thing, it was just like they oiled it so it wouldn’t be dusty. And we ran workouts, I ran on it at WSU.
PAUL DUFFAU: I have to talk to the folks up there and find out if they still do that.
RICK RILEY: Saturday time trails, every Saturday you know, there’ll be a series of time trails whether it was a mile or a 1200 or a half mile or something you know, we’d ran one or two whatever, it’s just part of a workout.
PAUL DUFFAU: I know that they still get out on the road, as you would expect. Before I move down to Asotin, I lived in Moscow [Idaho], we used to do some long runs where we take off from Moscow, head out towards Colton on the back roads. I’d be running along and never hear them coming until they just kind of flash pass me and my hair would move because there is a substantial age and talent gap right there. The runners still get out there around Pullman and have some fun.
RICK RILEY: A group of us used run from a Pullman to Albion or Palouse.
PAUL DUFFAU: Palouse is about 25 miles, 30 miles round trip.
RICK RILEY: Yeah, and we would just go out and have somebody pick us up. Gerry [Lindgren] and I, one time, ran from Pullman to Colfax and then hitch hiked home. You could do that back in the day and, a serial killer wouldn’t leave us along the roadside or something.
PAUL DUFFAU: It’s kind of interesting about the” head on out and get picked up.” My high school coach back in Maryland would take the milers and he drop them, have them run back. Can’t do that now.
He was the big believer in miles. Told the milers, if they wanted to be decent, they should to run at least 60 miles a week, if you want to be good 70, and if you wanted to aim for greatness, you should be at 90 or 100.
RICK RILEY: Lindgren and I ran lots of miles, Randy James ran lots of miles. The warnings were that we’re going to burn ourselves out, and that we’re not going to be any good. That we’re going to be injured - and every one of us had successful college careers. I see a lot of coaches hold these kids back today.
I try to keep track of where these good high school kids from the GSL [Greater Spokane League], where they ended up, what happened to them after high school, where did they go? These are kids that are kind of kept to the under 70mile a week level. Most of them entirely disappear off the radar after high school maybe 2 years of college.
All I can say is, it worked for me and it worked for others. Going back in our conversation, a lot of these kids ran a lot of miles when they were younger, where as guys like Lindgren and myself and Randy and some of these other people started when we were older. Not that I would encourage, I don’t coach my kids around that kind of mileage- it’s a private school thing [Rick coaches at St. George’s Academy], their time is limited. The big thing is a lot of kids simply could not hold on to that kind of mileage.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: I was a pretty tough kid and can withstand the rigors of it. I averaged 92 miles a week, 52 week in my senior years in high school. I had one week that I ran 130 miles in 6 days I mean, I’m not sure of anybody I coached that ever handled that kind of mileage.
PAUL DUFFAU: They certainly couldn’t do it if they’re incoming freshmen. That point, the kids here at the Asotin, Tim Gundy brings them along and pulls back their mileage early. He’s got a couple of runners now that have been building up the mileage, ready break a 100 mile week, but they’re running within their capabilities. They’ve done what you’ve said earlier, it’s been there 2 or 3 years of believing in themselves, putting in the work, aiming higher, and now their bodies are able to handle that. I think if you try and slam into it, you’re begging for trouble.
RICK RILEY: You should never, ever. I would expect my freshmen boys to race around about 30 to 35 miles a week. Girls, 25 to 30 but Madison Ward is running about 40 miles a week right now. And I’ll try to move her up to 45 next year, but I would top her out at about 50.
PAUL DUFFAU: I don’t know how much Lucy Eggleston runs. She was one of my junior highers back when she was in 6th grade and I’m actually working with one of her sisters now. And I don’t know how much she runs but I do know that she - - because I wrote a fictional book about girls cross country that ended up in Running Times this last July-she and the other girls came back and said, “These kids [in the book] are kind of hard core.”
But even in there I had a progression where some kids were doing a fairly low mileage, freshmen girls were fairly low mileage whereas the senior girls who have been around at the sport for a few years were much higher. We also had one where she went into an over-training sequence and then talked about that. There are a lot of things that I put into the book, they were educational but embedded into the story itself, because if I preached to the kids, they’ll tune me out.
RICK RILEY: Yeah, they’ll tune you out, right. You know, as you say, it has to be a gradual build up. The danger- I would speak that to my own experience- the danger of running these lots of miles in high school is what is left of them when they go to college.
I mean, I could not match the kind of miles in college that I put in in high school. I don’t think I’ve ever topped out at it any more than an 80 mile week, in the summer maybe 90. I never run any 100 mile weeks in college. My senior year in college, when I had a great year, I was less than 50 miles a week as far as an average because I was doing so much intensive track training and I didn’t want to get hurt.
I’ve spent too much time in parts of my college time hurt, and I said there’s a better way to do this, I’m smart enough to figure this out. The biggest danger is all of this I feel is an accumulated stress we’re putting on ourselves.
I am so lucky to this day. I mean I’m averaging over thirty miles a week and I run on trails, I don’t run on roads that much, I have, knock on wood, no knee issues, no hip issues, nothing related to tons and tons of mileage over the years. That’s not the norm. And the problem with high school kids doing too much is once the injury syndrome starts, it never stops.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: I don’t know if you know that name Matt Davis?
PAUL DUFFAU: Oh, yes.
RICK RILEY: Well, he ran for meet, and then he ran for the University of Oregon and he was an all-American in the University of Oregon but his career was cut short because he had twelve lower leg surgeries.
PAUL DUFFAU: Ouch!
RICK RILEY: I had surgery on both my tendons and they cleaned them out and cleaned the scar tissue out when I was 31 and 32. I ran a PR for 10K on the track when I was thirty, but Achilles tendinitis shut me down after college, and I could never put a season together. I had a couple of them, but I couldn’t put a season together because I had Achilles problems all the time. Plus once the surgery route starts for most kids most athletes, girls or boys, it never ever really ends. You go through this - I get knee surgery, I go to rehab, I come back and when I try to run too fast I get hurt again. I hurt my IT Band. All of these things happen and I think that’s the danger of big mileage.
PAUL DUFFAU: Well one of the things that I joke to junior high-ers because my whole goal for the junior high kids was I wanted get them to have fun at the junior high school level and I wanted them healthy. So my standard joke with them, which is really not a joke, is that three things will hurt you as a runner - too much distance, too much speed, and too much stretching. And since runners tend to be Type A personalities, they have the tendency of trying to do too much, whatever it is.
RICK RILEY: Oh yes, absolutely. If ten miles a day is good then fifteen miles has got to be better. The kids that I like to coach, tend to be the ones that say - What should I do today? How much should I do today? And on the other hand be independent enough to know that if I’m not available, they’re supposed to run something that day. But I think the whole and the biggest difference that I see in today’s athlete is how we put the ingredients together. Not a big difference and I know one of your questions that I think we had on there. The terminologies changed a bit but the methodology has not.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: The science tends tends follow the actual lab work that the athletes do out there on the road.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: Certainly Arthur Lydiard, well, the guy was a milkman. He did not have any formal training in Physiology, he used himself is a guinea pig, and basically what he was doing in terms of building cell structure and mitochondria and that sort of thing was proven to be successful in the long run. He had a clue on what he was doing because it worked for him.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: I’ll tell you this. This is why Arthur Lydiard was successful. I met him in Germany though it was a very brief time.
He came up to me, shook my hand and congratulated me. He looked me in the eye and I’ll tell you what, there’s something special about the guy and not what he was doing. He was a person I could look back on which was one of the most, I mean the thing I remember most of my career was meeting Arthur Lydiard. Meeting Arthur Lydiard, shaking the man’s hand and looking at him in the eye. And he was a guy that you would believe in. And I think that’s what separates a good coach from a great coach. You can look at a kid in the eye or you can talk to this coach and you would say - “This guy knows what he’s doing.” He has this magnetism. And what else is a guy who takes average guys, blue collared guys from a neighborhood, and hang Olympic medals around their necks.
PAUL DUFFAU: Yes.
RICK RILEY: I think Bill Bowerman was very successful in that same category although he seemed to be a (inaudible 1:06:17) guy, a lot of good guys disliked him.
PAUL DUFFAU: People approach it differently.
RICK RILEY: But I got a compliment from Bill Bowerman. I beat Roscoe [Devine] in one meeting. The next day we were in the airport ready to fly home. Bill came up and shook my hand and said, “You’re a lot stronger this year.” And I took that to be a high praise.
PAUL DUFFAU: Just that he noticed you, for starters, and thought it was worthwhile to come up and talk to you. And that’s kind of interesting because it’s tied to one of the questions that I have which is we have this phenomena - Pre- where he just dominated the consciousness of the running community and then it spread outside the running community. And I was wondering from your perspective, was that a function of that first running boom that we had in the country or there’s just something inherently charismatic about Pre. You raced against him, you know him a bit.
RICK RILEY: I think it is all of those things. I’ll give you a little history behind Pre. We knew each other in Washington State. I was probably a junior and he was a high school kid and we gave him a courtesy call. I was the designated hitter to call him up and advise him to attend. We knew he wasn’t going to go there but he told me right on the telephone that he was going to break my high school record.
I was kind of taken aback by it.
Like I said, it was a combination of things because he came along at time when American consciousness in distance running was at an all time high. We had just come out of the 1964 Olympics a few years earlier with Bob Schul winning, Billy Mills winning, Jim Ryun was the young mile phenomenon. Gerry Lindgren had beaten the Russians and Gerry was winning every collegiate race that he ran.
Pre comes along and distance guys are the classically endomorphic reticent, shy, guys. I had my black horn rim glasses on and the little squeaky voice of Gerry Lindgren and we were supposed to be the “gee whiz” “aw shucks” guys. We’re not supposed to be brash or bold or make predictions or anything voice. I mean, I never thought of myself as being very shy, but Pre was this bold kid. He ends up in an environment that is just very knowledgeable, track hungry, and he’s got the entire community running and of course, the legendary coach Bill Bowerman and the Olympic medalist Bill Dellinger and here’s a kid that says, I’m going to beat you all and he does it. That’s not like Frank Shorter, who is. . .
PAUL DUFFAU: An ambassador. . .
RICK RILEY: Yes, an ambassador who is intellectual, quiet, self-assured, but certainly a different personality makeup than Pre. I mean, Pre would sometimes stick his foot in his mouth. But he basically caught the imagination of the people because here’s this young guy and I think he kind of epitomizes America. We’re not a shy nation. We do some things we probably shouldn’t do but he basically was kind of cut out for it. Like for instance, you either loved or hated Muhammad Ali.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: The press loves people like that. They love people who make predictions and hopefully they will deliver upon them. The classic Babe Ruth standing up at the plate and then pointing out on the left field, and then smacks one out there. Those are things that were legendary in sports and Pre was that kind of guy. And he had to his great advantage an adoring crowd, people chanting his name, people loving every word that came out of his mouth, and even when he competed in the Olympics and he would get cocky, he was not looked upon as a disappointment, but he was looked upon as the guy that laid it out.
PAUL DUFFAU: Right.
RICK RILEY: “I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to run the laps my own way, by God, and you better stay with me.” And unfortunately, all those other guys could do it too. In the video, Fire on the Track when they interviewed Ian Stewart, it’s obvious that Ian Stewart was not impressed with Steve Prefontaine. He didn’t seem to understand that the rest of us were that good, too. In reality, that was Pre’s downfall. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. He should’ve surprised them. He shouldn’t have told them what he was going to do. You don’t lay out what you’re going to do beforehand, you just do it. But that caught the imagination of the public.
And of course, we will never know if he would’ve won a gold medal in 1976. Would he have set world records or what? Ironically for instance, Jerry Lindgren. Lindgren lost only one NCAA championship race and that was an indoor meet to Jim Ryun and won eleven titles to I think Pre’s 4 and then his cross country title. Pre of course ran the 3 or the 5 or whatever it is that was on the agenda in the NCAA and then Jerry took on all comers at not just the 3K and the 6K or the 3K or the 5K but he doubled. Oregon did not have that culture.
PAUL DUFFAU: No.
RICK RILEY: We ran races before five hundred to a thousand people in cold windy conditions and when Pre came up and ran a dual meet at WSU. I can’t tell you his exact words. He said how the “f” can anybody run in this “effing” place.
PAUL DUFFAU: It builds character. (LAUGHING)
RICK RILEY: It was a difficult place to run, and it was tiny, it was atmospheric.
And he was a charismatic personality. We don’t like weak, wimpy people in America. We like tough, brash guys. Probably that’s why people are as forgiving to George W. Bush as they are because we like brash people. This is America. This is how we do it. And even as a competitor, even as the guy who ran against him I would sometimes shake my head and say, “Oh my God be quiet!”
It was hard not to like and admire the guy. I roomed with him in Europe. When he was not talking to anybody from the newspapers, he’s an entirely different guy.
PAUL DUFFAU: It was just for show?
RICK RILEY: It’s like a switch would start on when a guy would come up with a pen in his hand. He was a quiet kid. He was great to be around, he was likeable. He wasn’t this big party animal or anything. The myth and the reality are totally different. But when a guy from the press would come up and wanted his opinion, he would be there to give it to him. That’s what made him exciting. And he ran in an exciting fashion. He was this physically strong barrel-chested guy that was going to go out and dictate the pace. He wasn’t going to hang back and run anything tactical. He’d throw a gauntlet down the track and say - “If you can stay with me, good for you. Bring it on.”
And I think that’s what made him so unique. I grew up in an era where they preached that you’ve got to be humble. You don’t want to bring attention to yourself, and we kind of lived by those rules and he [Pre] broke all of those rules.
PAUL DUFFAU: I can understand that. I’ve been exchanging e-mails with Jack Welch who covered a lot of the running scene from the late ‘70s through the ‘90s and I told him that one of my detriments to being an author is that I’m not wonderful at self-publicizing because I grew up not to brag but just do. And that doesn’t necessarily fit the internet world today. Back then it was pretty much ‘get off your butt and go do it’.
RICK RILEY: It’s true. Most of us were taught not to bring attention to ourselves but my philosophy is I’m going to let my running speak for itself. I’m not going to make excuses I lose if I lose. But if you beat me today, I’m going to come after you the next time and I’m going to find a way.
I once in my career made this bold prediction when I thought I was going to run under 4 minutes-and this was in high school to a newspaper writer I was trying to acting all (inaudible 1:17:55) and it hit the headlines the next day.
And I said “Oh Lord, why did I do that?”
And so I ended up running in a race where another high school, Tim Daniels broke 4 minutes and I was dead last. I was 4:04 minutes and ran a PR by 4 seconds and I was dead last.
I did everything my coach told me to do. I was 2 minutes at the half. I slipped a little bit in the third lap but I’d never finished last in a race before in my life. And I thought lesson learned, keep your mouth shut. And it’s not that I didn’t run well, it was a great time I mean, 4:04 minutes was a fantastic time.
And I was hugely disappointed, I was mad at myself. But I learned and from my point of view, it’s just better to shut up and run. Don’t make any big predictions, just do it.
So, that’s part two of the Rick Riley interview. I may have some typos in there - I apologize. It’s a combination of work, writing, and waiting for two grandchildren that are officially two days late. I expect to have the last part of the series out on Sunday morning. Rick will be looking at the new faces and consider what a legacy means for a racing legend.
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