Steve Prefontaine is known as Americas greatest running legend. He held 14 American running records; No American runner could be him at any distance over a mile. But Prefontaine did not have it easy by far.
Steve Prefontaine was born on January 25, 1951 to parents Ray and Elfriede Prefontaine. They lived in Coos Bay, Oregon, which is a very small town with a population of 15,000. Growing up Steve was always doing crazy things to show that he was better then and tougher then others. He joined the football team in school but was very rarely played, because of his acute stature. That wasnt the only thing kids made fun of him for; they teased him because he was slow at learning things. He was discouraged greatly by sitting on the bench and watching the others kids play football but there wasnt anything else he was good at, He remembers sitting and watching the High School Cross Country team run for an hour or two at a time and he would say to him self that is not fun, there is no point in that its just dumb, Steve wasnt really into running that this time as you could tell. It wasnt until he was in gym class and they were doing physical fitness tests when he realized his capabilities, along with the gym teacher who also pointed out his strength.
The next year his freshman year at Marshfield high school wouldnt you know it Steve Prefontaine joined the Cross Country team. He went from being the 7th man on the team to being the 2nd man in one season, also with that he earned himself a trip to the state cross country meet and a 53rd place finish. That same year Prefontaine also participated in track, he didnt show up as big in track as he did in cross-country but he did push out a 5:01 mile, which showed promise. In his sophomore year of cross country Steve would make another trip to states but would only come home with 6th place, this sent him smoldering. Which would make him train harder. In Track of his sophomore year Steve just missed states for the two-mile. In Steves junior year of cross country his goal was to go undefeated, Well wouldnt you know it he went undefeated and won the Oregon state championships. In Track of that year Steve set an all time Oregon track best in the two mile with 9:01.3. In Steves senior year he wanted to continue his dominance with staying undefeated in cross-country, which he did again what a surprise taking home the state title again. In track of that year Steve also showed up big again winning the Mile and the two mile with times of 4:08.4 and 9:03.0 to capture a couple of more Oregon titles. Along with that he also set a national record in the two mile with 8:41.5. Pre went on to try out for the AAU (amateur athletic union) where he made the team. He was the youngest on the team but that definitely doesnt mean he was the slowest. He mainly ran the 3mile and the 5000 meters.
In the fall of 1969 Steve went to the University of Oregon where he showed up big in both Cross Country and track. In cross-country of that year Steve took 3rd place in the NCAA championships also his last defeat of his cross-country career. Pre also had an outstanding track season winning the NCAA championships in the 3Mile in 13:22.0. In his sophomore year of college Pre went on to become the NCAA cross-country champion again. In track he held his title as NCAA 3Mile champion with a time of 13:20.2. In his junior year Steve didnt do cross-country he was excused from it, but that sure didnt mean he didnt train he butt off. In track of that year he won the NCAA championships in the 5000 in a time of 13.31.4. But Pre was focusing on something different, he was focusing on the 1972 Munich Olympic games, which he stated a few years before he would be attending, and he did. But nothing ever came easy to Pre; he was upset when he was struck with the bad news that Palestinians were holding Israelis hostage. They agreed to let the hostages go but they blew up the helicopter that all the athletes were on. Pre didnt want to run at all he thought the games should be cancelled but they werent. In the semi finals of the 5000 meters he placed 2nd top 2 qualify for the finals, Pre ran a 13:32.6 finishing behind Puttemans with 13:31.8. In the Finals Pre went out slow, finally picking it up with a mile to go but he kept on getting cut off by Mohamed Gamoudi of Tunisia, Pre took over the lead on the bell lap with a powerful drive but that wasnt enough he picked it up to late Lasse Viren pulled ahead it was Pre and Viren fighting it out all the way then Pre dropped the hammer and started his kick a very powerful one, maybe to powerful because Viren kicked right past him in the last 200 meters along with Gamoudi and then with 10 meters left Pre died out and stumbled to the finish with a third man passing him Ian Stewart of Great Britain. Pre was unbelievably upset and depressed but it was obvious he wanted first he could easily of had stayed with the rest of the pack and took 3rd but he wasnt going to settle for that he wanted 1st or nothing.
Pre grieved over the whole Munich thing for a while but then realized that the future for him looked good. He trained harder then ever to prepare for the 1976 Montreal Olympic games. He was progressing well. In his return to College in his senior year he once again captured the NCAA cross country championship and again going undefeated. In track Pre also won the NCAA championships in the 3Mile with a time of 13:05.3 being the first person to win four NCAA titles in a row. After college Pre went on to run for the Oregon track club. While in this club Pre ran some of his best times. In the mile Pre ran a 3:54.6 against Wottle who ran a 3:53.3, which was a personal record for prefontaine. Prefontaine also ran PRs (personal record) in the 3000 with a time of 7:42.6, The 2mile with a time of 8:18.4, a 3Mile time of 12:51.4 was an American record and the 3rd best in the world, a 5000 meter time of 13.21.9 which was an American record, and a 10,000 meter time of 27:43.6 which was an American record and the 6th best in the world. Steve was at the peak of his running career. He was even organizing a meet so that he could face Lasse Viren one last time before the 1976 Montreal Olympic games. But at the last minute Viren cancelled so Steve didnt get his last race in before the Olympics with him. But that didnt mean the meet was a flop, it was still a great meet, Pre ran the 5000 meters as planned and ran it in an exceptional time of 13:23.8 just 1.9 seconds of his own American record, not bad since he really didnt have anybody to run with. This also extended his winning streak of any distance over a mile to 25 1st place finishes in Eugene Oregon.
That night the night of May 29,1975 all the runners had a party after the meet, Pre went along with his girlfriend Nancy and Frank Shorter, while there Pre did have 4-5 in a two and a half hour time span, the people that were present at the time said that he did not appear drunk at all. At 12:15A.M. Pre, Nancy and Frank Shorter left the party and headed home, Pre dropped Nancy off at the University to pick up her car that she had left there, He then drove Frank Shorter to where he was staying which was Kenny Moore's home, He lived on one of the hills encircling Eugene, They sat in the car for awhile discussing there stand with AAU and decided that they would run the championship meet doing there specialties all out then after that take on the AAU, With that Shorter got out of the car and Pre drove down the hill. After that it is all up to question to what happened that night at the bottom of skyline Boulevard, it was a road Pre had run numerous times before, there wasnt any indication of excessive speed, as the car approached the sharp curve it crossed over the center line, went over the curb and hit one wall of natural rock. His car flipped over, pinning him under neither. There was only one couple that heard the crash that night. The husband ran out of the house only to see and hear a light colored MGB racing away from the sight, he didnt realize that Pre was still pinned underneath the car. The man got in the car and chased after the light colored MGB but lost him, he turned around and came back to his home to find Pre gasping for air underneath his gold MG, the man tried to pick the car off of him but he couldnt do so for a long time, he ran in the house and called the ambulance, by the time they got to the scene of the accident Steve was pronounced dead on May 30th 1975. The police did an investigation on that other car the light colored MGB but the kid said that he found Pre trapped underneath the car so quickly drove to get is father who was a doctor, so that case was dismissed. Later that Friday morning a mortician took a blood sample from Pre, this was done in an unusual manner, usually the medical examiner does the blood test but it this case it wasnt done that way, and they dont know how or where the blood was taken, error in this could lead to a 20% difference, this process was never done before and never done since. Prefontaine's Blood alcohol count was .16 percent, well above Oregons legal limit of .10 percent. But there was mostly error in that reading due to the unusual procedure.
Steve Prefontaines funeral was held at Pirate stadium inside the track, the place where Pre made a name for himself, that was his high school stadium. Pre was buried in his Olympic uniform something he worked so hard for and took great pride in, his pallbearers we all runners, dressed in national team warm up suits. The next evening there was a memorial service held at Hayward Field in Eugene. Kenny Moore delivered the eulogy, and other athletes and friends tried as best as they could to put their emotions into words. As they spoke the scoreboard clock continued to run, until it stopped at 12:36.0 a time Pre once said would be satisfied with in the 3mile. During the last minute, the crowd of 4,000 stood and cheered, and many present still maintain the sun broke through the clouds as the clocked stopped, just as it had whenever Pre had stepped onto the track. Then is was over, the people, Pres people had cheered for the very last time for Pre at Hayward Field but was still and never will be forgotten