Steve Prefontaine

From Academic Kids

Steve Roland Prefontaine (January 25, 1951 - May 30, 1975) was an American Olympic runner born in Coos Bay, Oregon. He competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Prefontaine was primarily a long distance runner, and at one point held the American record in every running event from the 2000 meters to 10,000 meters. Prefontaine was killed on May 30, 1975 at the age of 24 in a car accident.


Marshfield High School (1966-1969)

As a freshman at Marshfield High School, Prefontaine initially found limited success in his attempts at sports, although he found some success in his attempts at cross country, placing 53rd in the state meet. Determined to improve, Prefontaine undertook a high-mileage training plan during the summer. The plan was ultimately successful, and the following year he placed 6th in the year-end state meet.

He continued rigorous training at the end of the cross country season in preparation for the track. His training was too strenuous and the overworked Prefontaine failed to qualify for the state meet. However, his junior and senior years proved highly successful, with Prefontaine winning every meet, including state, and setting a national high school record his senior year in the two-mile race with a time of 8:41.5.

University of Oregon (1970-1973)

Following high school, Prefontaine enrolled at the University of Oregon in order to continue his running under coach Bill Bowerman, who would later co-found the Nike shoe company. Following his freshman year, he went undefeated, winning three Division I NCAA Cross Country championships and four straight three-mile titles in Track and Field. He also set the American record in the 5000 meter race, the event that took him to the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. Prefontaine narrowly missed a medal there, falling behind in the last 100 meters and landing a 4th place finish. Returning for his senior year at the University of Oregon, Prefontaine ended his collegiate career undefeated by American runners. It was during his collegiate career that he began to fight the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) which demanded that athletes who wished to remain "amateur" for the Olympics not be paid for appearances in track meets, even though they drew large crowds that generated millions of dollars. Bowerman, who also fought the AAU's restrictions, began calling Prefontaine "Rube" because of his naivety and stubborness.

Post-Collegiate (1974-1975)

Following the University of Oregon he set his sights on the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, setting American records in every race from 2000 to 10,000 meters.

On May 30, 1975, on the return from a party down a familiar road, Prefontaine's car swerved right and hit a rock wall along the side of the street. Trapped under his overturned car, Prefontaine died at age 24.


The death of Prefontaine proved shocking to many. The Eugene Register-Guard called his death "the end of an era." Controversy remains surrounding whether his death was classified an alcohol-related fatality. Although his blood alcohol content was 0.16, six hundredths higher than Oregon's then legal limit, it was a mortician that tested his blood rather than a medical examiner.

By the time of his death, Prefontaine, affectionately called Pre, was a very popular runner, and along with Frank Shorter can be attributed with helping to spark the running boom of the 1970s. His story has lead to two movies documenting his life, 1997's Prefontaine and 1998's Without Limits. The documentary "Fire on the Track" was also made about him. An annual track event, the Pre Classic, has been held in his honor since 1974.

"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" - Steve Prefontaine

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