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Marathoner Kristy Johnston inspired by late Steve Prefontaine

April 18, 1997

BOSTON (AP) _ The memory of Steve Prefontaine lives in Kristy Johnston.

``I have great respect for someone who saw something they wanted and went after everything,″ Johnston said of the brash, charismatic distance runner who lived around the corner from her in Coos Bay, Ore., when she was a youngster.

``I liked his determination to work hard at something he wanted. He was never satisfied. He set high goals for himself.″

Johnston, one of the nation’s top women’s distance runners and among the elite contenders in Monday’s Boston Marathon, watched Prefontaine win the next-to-last race of his brief but storied career, at 2,000 meters in Coos Bay.

Prefontaine, the best American distance runner of his time, died in a car crash in 1975 at age 24, just hours after his final victory. The accident occurred close to the University of Oregon track where he became a star.

``He was just a regular person,″ Johnston said of the carefree Prefontaine, who also is being remembered this year in two movies about his life. ``He made something matter.

``You look to people who try to do something special. I’ve drawn inspiration from him.

``I don’t go out running and think I’ll be like him. But I admire him.″

Johnston, 31, has yet to make as strong an impact as Prefontaine, her biggest accomplishments so far winning the 1993 Houston Marathon and the 1994 Chicago Marathon, the latter in a career-best 2 hours, 29 minutes, 5 seconds.

``I want to race, then the times will come,″ she said of her best clocking, which is more than seven minutes off Joan Benoit Samuelson’s American record of 2:21:21.

On Monday, Johnston will get to race against many of the world’s best distance runners, including three-time defending women’s champion Uta Pippig of Germany, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia and two-time world cross country champion Derartu Tulu, also of Ethiopia.

Although she probably will be outclassed, Johnston is anxious to run the revered Boston course.

``The way I want to run Boston is at my very best, or I don’t want to be there,″ Johnston said. ``I think I can PR (run a personal record). I’m not going to say what I think I will run. Every time I do that, I blow it.″

Six weeks ago, Johnston didn’t think she would be in condition to run Boston or any other race at this time. She dropped out of a 9.3-mile race in Jacksonville, Fla., after only 3 1/2 miles, completely exhausted.

``I guess I was tired from marathon training,″ she said. ``I thought I was rested ... but I had no legs.″

A stomach virus about a week before the race also might have contributed to her poor physical condition. The disappointed Johnston went into a mental funk for a few days, then regrouped.

``Since then, my training has been going great,″ said Johnston, who since last summer has been coached by Chris Fox, an elite distance runner.

Prior to that, she was coached for two years by Dieter Hogen, Pippig’s long-time coach. Johnston split with Hogen ``because we had different ideas about training.″

The departure came just after Johnston ran what she called ``a disaster″ in the Olympic trials, finishing fifth, two places from making the U.S. team.

``In my mind, there was no reason why I shouldn’t have made the team,″ she said. ``I just had a bad day. After that race, I quit working with Dieter. That race was a huge downer.″

Under the tireless Hogen, Johnston would train 140-150 miles per week. Now her top is 120, and if she feels tired during a workout, she stops rather than push on relentlessly.

``Before, I was so tired, I couldn’t even go to the grocery store,″ she said. ``I couldn’t get off the couch because I was fatigued.

``I wasn’t being a sissy or anything, but there was a point where I was overtired.″

Under Fox, she feels more relaxed and ready to test the demanding Boston course.

And she would like nothing better than to win this race against the world’s best for ``Pre.″

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