Running is the everyman’s sport. It blurs the barriers of age, size, and ethnicity. The barrier to entry isn’t dependent on status or money. You grind in free spaces—back roads and dirt trails—with nothing more than the shoes on your feet. With track and field, those sentiments only heighten. You grow as an individual, but benefit the team. The teachings learned therein transcend sport. You learn where to push, when to stay in your lane, and how to lean into discomfort. And its origins as a spectator sport are far-reaching.
Track and field’s history can be traced back to 776 BCE, when it was helmed as the first Olympic sport—remaining the only event at the Games until 724 BCE. Freeborn Greek men sprinted equivalents of 200 meters and 400 meters; competed in distance events; and duked it out in the pentathlon (discus toss, javelin throw, long jump, sprinting events, and wrestling). Athletes who earned a place on the podium received sealstones—similar to our modern day medals—a gemstone typically bearing an engraving of Nike, a winged goddess that personified victory. In Greek mythology, she was a messenger of the gods, typically shown with a wreath or ribbon with which to crown triumphant athletes.
Nowadays Nike’s a titan in a different sense. The company is a stalwart of speed. Its iconic Swoosh adorns the shoes of some of the fastest runners on Earth hailing from all corners of the globe—from Kenya to Oregon, Nike’s birthplace. The University of Oregon’s Hayward Field is where the origin story begins.
In 1973, the fledgling company signed its first athlete: Steve Prefontaine, a gutsy 22-year-old distance running prodigy. Ancient Greek athletes were valorous in that competing in chariot racing often resulted in being mangled or trampled to death—but that’s what fueled the crowds. They got drunk off the danger. Prefontaine understood the draw. He approached running—or better yet, racing—with a warrior spirit and gave it the same appeal as watching horses thundering around a circus. He wasn’t timid. He went out hard, never doubting his endurance or speed would falter.