Be Like Pre: The Nike Cortez

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
—Steve Prefontaine

With the 2012 Summer Olympics looming, it’s a great time to reflect back on America’s legendary athletes. We reminisced about the ’92 Dream Team a few weeks ago. Today, it’s one of the most passionate, dedicated and charismatic track stars of all time: Steve Prefontaine.

Known for a rebellious streak that often had him making bold pre-race predictions, Prefontaine (1951-1975) unarguably had the talent, and sheer force of will, to back them up. “No one will ever win a 5,000 meter by running an easy two miles,” he once said. “Not against me.”

At one point, Prefontaine held the American record in the 2,000 meter, 10,000 meter, and every running event in between (that’s seven in all). He was nearly undefeated during his college career at the University of Oregon, inspiring fans of opposing schools to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘STOP PRE.’ Sports Illustrated put him on the cover at age 19.

Although he didn’t take home an Olympic medal at the ’72 summer games in Munich, Prefontaine’s mercurial (and tragically short) career has nonetheless inspired athletes and spectators for generations to come.

Adding to his long list of achievements, Prefontaine paved the way for future sports icons like Michael Jordan, as the first-ever athlete to score an endorsement deal with a then-fledgling shoe company you may have heard of: Nike.

The ‘Cortez,’ pictured here, was Nike’s first running shoe. It was designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman—who also happened to be Prefontaine’s Oregon and Olympic running coach. Bowerman experimented tirelessly with subtle iterations of his design, in order to reduce the weight of the shoe, and thereby improve his runners’ performance, by even the most minuscule amount.

Released in 1972 (and worn by that year’s US Olympic running team), this classic piece of footwear history celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Click the images above to shop—and check out the cool vintage ‘Cortez’ ads we came across, below.

1973 advertisement.

A page from Nike’s first product catalog.


[Prefontaine photos courtesy of Nike Sportswear and Vintage ads courtesy of and Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]

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