Steve Roland Prefontaine: The Legend

Steve ShieldsContributor IJuly 14, 2009


    Steve Roland Prefontaine, American distance runner, athlete, and motivator. Steve has been described as charismatic, handsome and brashly confident and one of the greatest American athletes to ever live. He was a master of motivation who people still look up to this very day. He's the ultimate athlete and person who cared more about his country then his own self wealth. This is his story.

     Steve was born on January 25, 1951 in the small town Coos Bay, Oregon. Steve was born to Raymond Prefontaine, who was a carpenter, and Elfriede, who was a seamstress from Germany.Steve like everyone else just wanted to play football, but his size wouldn't allow him to, so Pre took up a different past time then the other boys in his school. Running.
In his teens Steve attended Marshfield High School where he showed some success in running. Throughout high school he showed highs and lows in running, ranging from going undefeated his Junior and Senior years in the mile and 2 mile, to not making state is Sophomore year( Reason is thought to be to hard of training.) When Steve left Marshfield he had broken 19 National High School records in Track. Steve left Marshfield as one of the most sought out runners by virtually every college, he was one of the most versatile runners and could run anything from an 800 meters to 5000 meters.
After high school, "Pre" as many of his friends and fans called him, went to and ran at the University of Oregon. It was at Oregon that he ran under one of the most famous coaches of all time, Bill Bowerman (Co-founder of Nike.) His freshman year, Steve got 3rd in the National Cross Country Meet, later winning three straight through his Sophomore('71), Junior('72), and Senior('73) year. Steve also won four straight(1970-1973) 5000m Indoor Track Championships, "Pre" was the first athlete to ever win four consecutive NCAA track titles in the same event. Steve also held eight collegiate records including the 3 mile and 6 mile races in which have not been broken.

    Steve Prefontaine ran the 5000 meters in 1972 Munich Olympics at the age of 21. His strategy was to run the last mile in under 4:00 and to lose everyone. It was here where many people say Pre ran his best race of his life. Steve stayed in the pack the first two miles and with a mile to go Steve took the lead, he went the last mile exchanging the lead with the favorite to win, Lasse Viren of Finland, in the last 150 meters of the race, Steve started to die off as Viren passed him and then as Gammoudi passed him Steve was dying harder, finally in the last 15 meters of the race Gold passed him. "Pre" ran the last mile in an impressive 4:04. Steve Prefontaine didn't run that 5000 meters just to medal as so many would. He ran for first like he always did, he didn't run for silver or a bronze, the only thing he wanted was the gold, which is all anyone could ask of an athlete. Steve ended up getting fourth, not making his goal Steve Prefontaine was heartbroken and without any confidence going back home.

    After his return to the United States, Steve took a break from running to think about what he should with his life. After a brief discussion with Coach Bowerman, Steve decided to train for the 1976 Montreal Olympics turning down over $200,000 dollars so he could represent the United States. Throughout life during and after college he lived in a trailer with dog, he was a part time bartender. Steve fought with the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) on the rights that American amateur athletes should have, during the Olympics the AAU would give all U.S. Olympic athletes approximately $3 everyday for food and other expenses, which was way less then other countries who treated their athletes like "God's". Steve's struggles with the AAU could almost be said to be one of his biggest opponents, and without him, track athlete's today wouldn't be in the position they're in with the AAU.
    After attending a party on May 30, 1975, Steve Prefontaine drove home long time friend and rival Frank Shorter, on the way back home after dropping Frank off, Steve swerved his car and crashed, Steve Prefontaine was killed. It is unknown why he swerved his car or if alcohol had anything to do with it. It was a truely sad day when Steve died along with all of his potiential.

    Steve Prefontaine was not just a runner though, he was an avid community leader. He volunteered much of his time at Roosevelt Junior High School as a mentor. He also created a running club the Oregon State Prison, not only that but he talked to the inmates to give them hope to turn their life around when they got out.

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    Steve Prefontaine should be looked upon as not only a great athlete but also a great human being in general. With his actions he gave us hope and inspired the nation to run. With his words he inspired the nation to be the best we could be. Steve Prefontaine, greatest American runner to live, rest in peace.

Some notable Steve Prefontaine quotes:
"To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.
"A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding."

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement."

"Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, 'I've never seen anyone run like that before.' It's more than just a race, it's a style. It's doing something better than anyone else. It's being creative."

"The best pace, is a suicide pace, and today is a good day to die."

Steve Prefontaine, greatest American runner to live, rest in peace.