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Iconic Nike waffle shoes worn by legendary distance runner Steve Prefontaine up for auction

KGW-TV Portland 9/8/2022 Devon Haskins

For the first time ever, a pair of Nike Oregon Waffle shoes worn by distance runner Steve Prefontaine are up publicly for sale. 

The shoes were listed on the auction site, Sothebys.com, with a minimum bid of $100,000 reserve. Within a day, that reserve was met and the cheapest they will sell for is that amount. The shoes are also on display in New York as part of Sotheby's sports memorabilia auction dubbed "Invictus," which features a variety of athletes who've had a deep and lasting impact on their respective sports.

Shoe collectors say $100,000 would be a bargain for a pair of shoes once worn by Steve Prefontaine. 

"Steve Prefontaine is widely considered the greatest runner of all-time. He's also the soul of Nike," said Jordan Geller, an avid shoe collector.

Steve Prefontaine was a high school standout and an absolute rocket of a runner in college at the University of Oregon. From 1969 through the mid-1970s, the runner known as "Pre" dominated the sport until he died in 1975.

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He set eight collegiate records and competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

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"For a pair of Steve's shoes to hit the market, it's just an incredible opportunity," Geller said.

Geller isn't just any shoe collector. His collection, which at one time surpassed more than 2,500 pairs of Nike shoes, earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest Nike shoe collection in the world. He's since sold most of his collection but said he still owns around 200 to 300 pairs of Nikes.

"I love sneakers and always have since I was a kid," Geller said.

Geller said he won't bidding on the shoes listed in the Sotheby's auction, but will be watching closely. 

The shoes listed on Sotheby's auction site, which were worn by Prefontaine, are size 9.5 and sport the green and yellow University of Oregon colors. The shoes showcase the original Nike logo along with the iconic waffle pattern soles.

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"It's just an incredible opportunity for collectors to own a piece of Steve Prefontaine's story and also a piece of the very beginning of Nike," Geller said.

The waffle pattern was developed by Oregon track and field coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman.

The shoes were the first Nike shoe mass developed with the waffle pattern and were made with "Pre" in mind.

"His appeal and reach goes beyond collegiate running. so he's iconic with the state of Oregon and runners with all abilities," said Lauren Goss, public services librarian for the University of Oregon Library's special collections.

While Hayward Field was being rebuilt, Goss spent years studying the history of athletics at the school. She said the shoes listed represent more than just footwear worn by Prefontaine.

"It symbolizes bringing together Steve Prefontaine, the individual, but then also the University of Oregon, his coach, this place, it all kind of brings this whole story together," Goss said.

The shoes are estimated to be worth between $150,000 and $250,000, which Geller said would be a bargain. "I think the shoes will go for more than what they're estimated to sell for," he said.

Geller said he wouldn't be surprised if the shoes fetch closer to a million dollars.

The auction closes on Sept. 15.

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