Sidius, Altius, Fortius

"It means 'Faster, higher, stronger.' It's been the motto of the Olympic Games for a hundred years. It doesn't mean faster, higher, or stronger than your competitors... just faster, higher, stronger." - Bill Bowerman in Without Limits

The story told in Without Limits is the biography, in large, of Steve Prefontaine. Commonly refered to as simply "Pre," Steve was considered the greatest American distance runner in his era and his legacy lives on with a near cult-like following among young athletes who compete on the high school or collegiate level across the nation. Since Without Limits is the story of Pre, it is nearly impossible to discuss the film without discussing the history of Prefontaine's life. As such, any discussion would lead to a complete spoiling of the film for all who would wish to see it with fresh eyes. Standard information for the film follows, and it is suggested that readers heed well the "spoilers" warning below.


Directed by Robert Towne

Written by Robert Towne & Kenny Moore

Produced by Tom Cruise


Billy Crudup        as   Steve Prefontaine
Donald Sutherland   as   Bill Bowerman 
Monica Potter       as   Mary Marckx 
Jeremy Sisto        as   Frank Shorter 
Matthew Lillard     as   Roscoe Devine 
Dean Norris         as   Bill Dellinger 
Billy Burke         as   Kenny Moore 
Gabriel Olds        as   Don Kardong 
Judith Ivey         as   Barbara Bowerman 
William Mapother    as   Bob Peters 
Adam Setliff        as   Mac Wilkins 
Amy Jo Johnson      as   Iowa's Finest 
Lisa Banes          as   Elfriede Prefontaine 
Frank Shorter       as   Fred Long 
Jamie Schwering     as   Pre at age 6 
Garth Granholm      as   George Young 
Karen Elliott       as   Molly Cox 
Greg Foote          as   Walt McClure 
Wendy Ray           as   Hayward Field announcer 
Pat Porter          as   Lasse Viren
Steve Ave           as   Mohamed Gammoudi 
Thomas DeBacker     as   Juha Väätäinen 
Ashley Johnson      as   Ian Stewart 
Erich Anderson      as   Collin Pounder (uncredited) 


  1. "Summon on the Heroes" written by John Williams performed by the Boston Pop
  2. "Country Fair" written and performed by Joe Walsch
  3. "Tamalpais High" written and performed by David Crosby
  4. "Walk on the Wild Side" written and performed by Lou Reed
  5. "Do you Know What I Mean" written and performed by Lee Michaels
  6. "Can't Get Enough of You, Babe" written and performed by Barry White
  7. "Comin' Back to Me" written and performed by Marty Balin
  8. "Bugler's Dream" written and performed by Leo Arnand
  9. "Yitgadal Veyitkadash" performed by the Isreal National Choir
  10. "Can't Find My Way Home" written by Steve Winwood performed by Blind Faith
  11. "I Feel Free" written by Jack Bruce and Peter Braun performed by Cream
  12. "John, I'm only Dancing" written and performed by David Bowie
  13. "Badge" written by George Harrison and Eric Clapton performed by Cream
  14. "Rocket Man (I think it's going to be a long, long time)" written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin performed by Elton John

  15. "The Recruiting Run"
  16. "Montage Number Two"
  17. "Olympic Trials"
  18. written and performed by Scott Grusin and Seth Grusin

Scene Selections

     1. Tape-Breaking Credits          17. Pre's secret
     2. Pure guts at Munich            18. Olympic trials
     3. Easy-10 recruiting             19. Munich: Terrorist takeover
     4. The personal touch             20. Answer to war
     5. Don't call me coach            21. Pacing the race
     6. An absurd pastime              22. Home stretch
     7. Off a waffle iron              23. Shouldn't believe everything
     8. Three-mile star                      you hear
     9. Shoe doesn't fit               24. Never gonna change
    10. The way to win                 25. Exploring limits
    11. Dizzy in Des Moines            26. Back on the track
    12. Footloose (Can't Get Enough    27. Shoes for Montreal
            of Your Love, Baby)        28. The party
    13. What Pre believes in (Comin'   29. A dream of 12 seconds
            Back to Me)                30. Race toward the dream
    14. What Mary believes in          31. Nobody did it better
    15. Sanctioned                     32. Coda
    16. Steamed - and hurting          33. End Credits


Rated PG-13
Running time 117 minutes
A Warner Brothers Film
A Cruise-Wagner Production

The Backstory

High School

"I'd like to work it out so that at the end it's a pure guts race. If it is, I'm pretty sure I'll win it." - Steve Prefontaine, in a pre-race interview at the Munich Olympics

The story told in Without Limits is the story of American running legend Steve Prefontaine. The movie and the man are interchangable, and it's virtually impossible to talk about the former without examining the latter. And in discusing the man, it's virtually impossible to avoid mention of his Olympic efforts -- the dream that was shattered, and the dream he was denied by the drunk driving incident that ended his life.

With the exception of a brief montage of the start of the mens' 5000 m race at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich the story of Without Limits is largely chronological. The tale touches base on Pre's high school racing and college application, and then sticks with him throughout his University of Oregon years which were all in preparation for the 1972 games. Have no doubt about it, Steve Prefontaine expected to win the 5K at Munich as early as his high school years. There is also no doubt that U of O track coach Bill Bowerman agreed with Pre, as he broke a personal aversion to recruiting high school athletes to publish a letter to Prefontaine in his local paper in which Bowerman claimed that he would " honored" if Prefontaine selected U of O.

But I digress...

While enrolled at Coos Bay's regional high school, Marshfield, Pre broke the National high school record for the two mile by seven seconds, an unheard of margin. For decades he would hold the 19 and Under American record for the 5k at a clocking of 13:39.6. Without Limits indirectly shows actual footage of Pre's record breaking race (Bowerman is watching footage in his home while cooking up some racing flats for his runners) the only high school race depicted is the state championship cross country race of Steve's senior year. At the race U of O assistant coach Bill Dillenger is complaining to the Marshfield coach about never being able to pick Pre out of a field of several hundred runners. The coach simply laughs at him as Pre emerges over a hill about fifteen seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.

For any readers unfamiliar with the close-knit universe of high school cross country, allow me to convey the significance of this kind of lead halfway through a short three mile race. In 2000 I was witness to such a performance at the New Jersey All-Groups Meet held on the Holmdel Park course in central Jersey. In New Jersey, state competition is divided by a local level and a school size level. All similarly sized schools compete in a local race, and those who succede advance to the state meet. After completing my own race I stuck around to watch Haddonfield Memorial phenom Erin Donohue race. Her sophmore year she had lost by a scant 7 seconds to a Boston University bound Cait Guiney, the next year battling a cold she held off a pack of runners to win the race by 3 seconds, and all season long she had been smashing course records. Clearly, the race would be intense. The gun went off, and as the trademark Holmdel field narrowed to a shoulder width's path after a scant 400 meter field Donohue had opened up a 50 meter lead over her nearest competitor. This translated, two and three quarter miles later, to a dominating 44 second victory -- that close only because Donohue began "coasting" and talking back to fans with a mile to go -- in 18:52. The next week she won the New Jersey Meet of Champions in a similar fashion posting another 46 second victory with a time of 18:27. When Prefontaine passed Bill Dillinger with such a huge lead in 1968 Bill knew that Oregon would be in for something special, if they could just keep Pre there.


"If you can find meaning in the kind of running you must do to do to stay on my team, then you may find meaning in another absurd past time... Life." - Bowerman in his annual team welcoming speech

Every major university in America promising Pre the moon, all the young man who would become a star wanted was for one man to come out and say that he wanted to coach Pre. As an early bud to Pre's later vanity (Pre thought that talent had nothing to do with running, that it was all an act of will. Bowerman called this Pre's ultimate vanity, that if it was all purely an act of will Pre would have no limits, hence the title of the film) Pre insisted on hearing from Bowerman, a vehement anti-recruiter, before signing with the Oregon Ducks. Prefontaine would enjoy years of success with the Ducks, setting national marks in both events and consecutive victories.

"At least I made you work for it. Jesus Christ! You ran like that? Steve, you are crazy!" - Don Kardong at the finish line

Pre's most impressive race, other than any of the ones in which he set any of the 7 American records he held in his lifetime between 2,000 and 10,000 meters, was the national championship race he ran against Don Kardong, with 12 stitches in his left foot. He finished the race with a foot bloodied and torn and had to be carried off the field to a local hospital to re-stuture. My first year of competitive racing in high school was a particularly rainy fall for New Jersey. Week after week Saturday races were held in mud bogs at different state parks. At my teams Sectional Championship race I was bumped on a sharp turn and went down. Covered in mud, I jumped back up and finished the race just ahead of an opposing team's fifth runner, securing the final team qualifying spot for my team to advance. Panting and thouroughly exhausted I bent over after crossing the line... and saw nothing but blood. The fall at the one mile mark had ripped a large chunk of skin out of my knee, and nothing but adreneline had prevented me from feeling it. Prefontaine ran three miles, at a pace which would have put my efforts to shame, on what he knew to be a battered and torn body part. He ran despite Bowerman's efforts to watch over him, and won.


"I think the race will come down to Viren and myself, with Prefontaine struggling to keep up on the final lap." - Ian Stewart in a pre-race interview at Munich

The road to Pre's first and only Olympic Games was a short one which would only prove more treacherous at its end. Prefontaine won the American Olympic Trials for the 5k in a new American Record of 13:22.8. He broke George Young with a smart race of negative splits, and broke the record by 8 seconds. Full of spirit Prefontaine set out for Munich with Bowerman as the USA coach and several of his Oregon teamates who had also excelled at the Trials. The success at the Trials would not be repeated, as in Munich awaited darker hours.

Security was a major issue throughout the entirety of the 1972 games. Many nations wanted to bring their own guards to protect their athletes; the Germans assured everyone that there would be no problems in these Games. In what was declared an act of war a group of Arab terrorists took over the Israeli Athlete compound. It would be hours before the German police were able to apprehend the terrorists on an airport tarmac (after false promises of a plane) and the Games were almost suspended.

Political distractions aside, Pre had much to focus on. The Flying Finns Viren and Vaatainen had been scorching tracks all over Europe for the past 8 months. British Great Ian Stewart went so far as to predict that Pre would be a non-factor. Mohammed Gammoudi, a Tunisian soldier, was also one of the pre-race favorites which said a lot for what was up until that time one of the most competitive 5k fields ever assembled. As the race began Pre got boxed in by other competitors and was unable to take the lead from the start. Once escaping, Pre lept to the lead and forced a death march: he clocked his final mile in 4:04, but his legs died on him in his final steps to surrender the bronze metal to Stewart, with Viren and Gammoudi finishing first and second, respectively. Pre's American Trials time would have won the race by six seconds, but instead he would go home medal-less.

The next several years were quiet ones for Pre. Graduated from U of O it would be several months before he ran again, in the spring of 1973 showing up at Bowerman's Track again. He raced little, was offered a deal to turn pro, but instead made the monumental choice to prepare for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. In the year before the Games he made it well known to his closest friends that he wanted above all else to break the three mile world record, by 12 seconds no less, to send a message to his European competition that he was more prepared than the Munich Games. His record breaking plan? 63. Every lap Pre ran would be ran in 63 seconds, allowing him to finish in 12:36. There was no question in Pre's mind that he would do it, especially after a 12:51 tune up race at a charity event for Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. Tragedy struck the running nation that evening, however, as Pre left a party slightly intoxicated and lost control of his sports car on a very common road; his car flipped and a legend was lost.

If you can listen to a recording of Elton John's rendition of "Rocket Man" without tearing up you haven't really watched this movie. In Without Limits Prefontaine drives an aching Frank Shorter back to his house and then heads back for the party, living his record breaking race out in his head - "Bam! 63, bam! 2:06, bam! 3:09, bam! 4:12, he's on pace to do it!" - with "Rocket Man" playing on his radio. Just as Pre is "finishing" his final lap a truck swings around a curve in his lane and his car flips, crushing him instantly. The headlight of the car stays lit for a second, and then slowly fades along with the closing lines of the song offering a simple, but poignant image of Pre's passing. He was only 24 years old when he died.

In a final act of respect those gathered to mourn Pre's passing held his eulogy on the center of Hayward Field, his "second" home, and ran the scoreboard timer, stopping it at twelve minutes, and fifty-six seconds. In the minds of those in attendance, Pre had his final record.

Without Limits is a dramatic biography of Steven Prefontaine based largely off of recollections from his coach Bill Bowerman, his love interest Mary Marcx, his parents, and teammates. While the film won no awards it is certainly a *must see* for runners of any age as it manages to convey the sheer fearlessness of Pre and shows how he always tried to best his own potential.

DVD insert
Countless pre-race viewings
Fanatic Obsession with American Running Legends

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