Olympic Stories

Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine is an American middle distance and long distance professional runner. He was born in Oregon on 25th January 1951. His parents were German and Canadian. Prefontaine is remembered physically by his moustache and his long hair.

He attended Marshfield High School from 1966-1970, where he won every running meet event and set a national high school record for his 2 mile time of 8:41.5. His abilities were very clear right from the start when he began running against his peers. Hi 1971 he won a gold medal at the Cali Race of 5,000 metres, which was a wonderful achievement.

In 1970 Prefontain went to the University of Oregon where he trained. Bill Bowerman was his coach, and under his training he won the NCAA Cross Country Championships for three years. He was only defeated twice during his university years. Prefontain is an absolute legend in America with a huge following of fans.

While studying he entered into the Munich Olympics of 1972 where he finished in 3rd place winning a bronze medal. This was his first Olympic medal. He was actually ahead of the other runners until the last section where he dropped back behind Ian Stewart, a British runner.

In the final year of university, Prefontaine ran three times and Eugene and was beat each time. All were single mile races. He entered into a battle that year also with the AAU, because he was unhappy with their rule that all runner s who wanted to keep their amateur status would not be paid when they ran at the track meets. Many of the participants said that this rule was not right because the runs made millions of dollars for every race from spectators.

From 1974 to 1975 Prefontaine trained hard for the Olympics which were due to be held in Montreal in 1976. In every 2,000 metre and 10,000 metre race that he entered into he set a new American record. He was determined this time to better his previous attempt at the Olympics. But little did he know he would never be able to make it into the Olympics at all.

Prefontain attended a party in May 1975, and drove his friend and running partner Frank Shorter home. He was driving home when  his car swerved on the road and hit another car, which then drove away, but Prefontain ‘s car had overturned in the crash and he was trapped below.

Someone who had seen the accident ran to help and saw Prefontain lying face up, at that point he was still alove but was unable to get out from under the car. The witness ran for help but by the time they had rounded up more people to help, Prefontain was dead after the car had crushed him to death.

The story of Prefontaine’s life and death is a sad one, as his life was claimed at the age of just 24 young years, and he never he the opportunity to reattempt the Olympics.

Career Highlights

  • 1971 Pan American Games – Gold

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