On the 30th of May in 1975, America lost its finest runner. Just hours after winning a race on his home track, Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident at just 24 years old.
Pre, as fans would call him, grew up in Coos Bay, a small logging town in Oregon. At 15 years old, running for Marshfield High School, Prefontaine won back-to-back state cross-country championships in 1968 and 1969, and went undefeated in cross-country and track his junior and senior year. He also broke the national high school two-mile record by nearly seven seconds with an 8:41.5.
Prefontaine chose to attend the University of Oregon in Eugene after receiving a letter from head coach Bill Bowerman. Losing only twice during his collegiate career, Pre became a legend under Bowerman. His preferred race of the 5000 meter run is what led him compete in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. Prefontaine shockingly came in fourth and just barely lost out on his chance at the Bronze, hitting a wall in the last 50 meters. After graduating from Oregon, Prefontaine continued to run and set American records in every race from 2,000 to 10,000 meters while running for the Oregon Track Club. He was in the best shape of his life, and it was time to redeem himself at the upcoming 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
However, Pre never made it to 1976.
On an early night in the summer of 1975, after winning what would be his last 5000m at Hayward Field, Prefontaine attended an after party for the race with some of the foreign athletes who attended. While driving home shortly past midnight, Prefontaine’s MGB slammed into a rock wall flipped, pinning the Prefontaine underneath it. He didn’t die instantly, but, suffocated due to the impact and weight of his beloved car on his chest.
Later this month will mark the 43rd anniversary of his death, and to this day, his story continues to motivate runners of all age. In living memory of Pre, the Oregon Track Club Board decided that the meet he did so much to make successful should bear his name. The Steve Prefontaine Classic is now one of the finest meets in the nation and is held annually.
“Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”