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Running Legend Steve Prefontaine

"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift." Steve Prefontaine.


Steve Prefontaine is widely regarded as one of the greatest American runners of all time and along with Frank Shorter and Bill Bowerman is largely attributed with sparking the running boom of the 1970's. Prefontaine always believed in giving a full effort and is still hugely popular and is known in running circles for his aggressive "front-running" racing style.


Steve Prefontaine's career was one of high profile, as he smashed countless American national running records. As a freshman at Marshfield High School, Prefontaine initially found limited success in his attempts at various sports. However, he came to find some success in cross country running. Determined to improve, Prefontaine undertook a high-mileage training plan which was ultimately successful, and the following year he placed 6th in the year-end state meet. Prefontaine ran a personal best time of 5:01 in the mile during his freshman year.


Steve Prefontaine proceeded to undergo 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.


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 Blue Ribbon Sports which would later become Nike. He joined the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity as an undergraduate. Following his freshman year, he went undefeated, winning three Division 1 NCAA Cross Country championships and four straight three-mile titles in Track and Field. "Pre" was now the best known athlete in Eugene, becoming a hero to all who watched his races. He was known for going out hard and not relinquishing the lead, a tactic that his fans and fellow competitors admired. The loud chants of "Pre! Pre! Pre!" became a staple at Hayward Field, a mecca for track and field in the USA. Many fans wore shirts proclaiming "LEGEND", which became a sort-of war cry for him. Other fans of his began wearing shirts proclaiming to "Stop Pre" at his meets as a joke. Prefontaine gained national attention, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated aged just 19.


He set the American record in the 5000m race, the event that took him to the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. Prefontaine narrowly missed a medal there. He was passed with 150m to go and landed a 4th place finish despite leading nearly the entire last mile in a toe-to-toe battle with Lasse Viren. Returning for his senior year at the University of Oregon, Prefontaine ended his collegiate career undefeated in Eugene. It was during his collegiate career that he began to fight the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) 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 stubbornness.


Following the University of Oregon he set his sights on the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, setting American records in every race from 2,000 to 10,000 meters, until a tragedy befell the legend.


On May 30 1975, on the return from a party and after dropping off of a friend (Frank Shorter), Steve Prefontaine was driving down a familiar road near Hendricks Park, when his car swerved left and hit a rock wall along the side of the street. The overturned car trapped Prefontaine underneath it. The first witness on the scene, who lived nearby, heard two cars, and then a crash. When he ran outside he was almost run over by the second car. He found Prefontaine flat on his back, still alive but pinned beneath the wreck. Attempting to lift the vehicle off Prefontaine did not work, so he ran to get more help. Unfortunately, by the time he returned with others, the weight of the car had crushed Prefontaine's chest, killing him. He was just 24 years old.


The death of Steve Prefontaine proved shocking to many. The Eugene Register-Guard called his death "the end of an era" By the time of his death, Prefontaine was an extremely popular athlete. His life story has been recorded in movies and an annual track event, the Pre Classic, has been held in his honour since 1974. Prefontaine remains an icon, an idol and an obsession in American running.


During Steve Prefontaine's short running career, he ran 153 races in total. Incredibly, he won 120 of them.


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