My hero worship for the late Steve Prefontaine stems from his being one of the great American middle-distance runners ever, and his hey-day in the 1970s was during my teenage years when I engaged in the same sport. (The only thing we had in common was that we were both runners; that’s where the comparison ended.)
Prefontaine finished fourth in the 5000 meter run at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and died tragically in a one-car traffic accident in 1975. His legend has only grown since that time. Prefontaine ran track during his college years at the University of Oregon, which now, as during his lifetime, is recognized as the hotbed of American track & field. Indeed the sports giant Nike is headquartered nearby Beaverton, Ore.
As reported in the New York Times, the world of track & field has taken serious hits recently around corruption and conflicts of interest. Recently the World Anti-Doping Agency issued a report that accused the national track power of Russia of engaging “in state-sponsored doping that included cover-ups of positive tests, and efforts to extort money from athletes who had tested positive.” Additionally the former president of International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), Lamine Diack, was charged with corruption and money laundering in France for his role is accepting bribe payments to suppress positive drug tests.
But wait, there’s more! The new IAAF President, British running legend and Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, has ended his paid consulting relationship with Nike—which he had originally continued even after he took over as head of the IAAF. While Coe did not seem to understand the inherent conflict of interest in being compensated by a significant sponsor of the IAAF, he did acknowledge, “It is clear that perception and reality have become horribly mangled.”
Being a Brit, perhaps Coe recognized the irony in this last statement given that Eugene, Ore., was awarded the hosting rights of the 2021 World Championships. These rights were awarded to Eugene in a no-bid process that is an exception to the standard practice of the IAAF. As reported by the Times, “Officials in Eugene have said that Nike played no part in the process and that the bid adhered to all legal and ethical norms.”
Even if so, it is clear that perception and reality are mangled.