Steve Prefontaine

by Adam from Fredericksburg

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.”

What is a hero? Someone to look up to, to admire, to even deify? A hero to me has to be strong willed, powerful, and loyal. They have to be willing to take risks and do something they love. They have to never give up and always try their hardest. They have to keep looking ahead and have talent and skill. My hero is Steve R. Prefontaine, a legend in the running world and one of the best runners that ever lived.

Steve was born on January 25th, 1951 in the small town of Coos Bay, Oregon. His parents were Ray and Elfriede Prefontaine, and he had two sisters, Linda and Neta. He was always very energetic as a small boy, and was still full of energy by the time he reached 8th grade. After being told that he was too small to play football or basketball, Coos Bay’s favorite sports, he searched for something he was good at and finally discovered running during a physical education class. It was then, in his freshman year, that he decided to try out for cross-country.

Photo courtesy of <a href='' target=new>Sports Illustrated</a>
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

As he went through high school, Steve moved up through the ranks and eventually became the fastest runner on the team. As a junior and senior he was undefeated in every race he ran, and was spotted by the University of Oregon’s Bill Dellinger. He decided to go to the University of Oregon, and after four years of college he was known nationwide. All of his fans were known as “Pre’s People”, and would chant, “Pre! Pre! Pre!” over and over while he was running. (“Pre” was a nickname he and his siblings had growing up**). He won seven NCAA titles: three in cross-country (1970, 1971, and 1973), and four in the three-mile in track (1970 (13:22.0), 1971 (13:20.2), 1972 (14:01.4-5K) and 1973 (12:53.4). He was the first collegian to accomplish this feat in track and the second ever in cross-country. After college, he owned eight American records in running.

Pre participated in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. His three mile race was the most intense and disappointing to himself and his fans. In a last lap attempt to pull ahead, he ended up losing to Lasse Viran of Finland in the final half lap. He was then was passed by Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Ian Stewart of Great Britain put in one last kick in the last 10 meters to pass Pre and grab the 3rd place medal. Pre was devastated, but trained harder than ever for the next Olympics. Unfortunately, Pre never got the chance to run in the 1976 Olympics. On May 30th, 1975, when he was only 24 years old, Steve Prefontaine died in a car crash after a party he was attending in Eugene, Oregon. The whole nation was astounded, and thousands came to visit the memorial called “Pre’s Rock”, where the car crash happened.

Image courtesy of <a href='' target=new>Sports Illustrated</a>.
Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Pre was a hero because of his immense talent and his kindness towards others. He once volunteered at the Oregon State Prison, where he started a running club for the inmates there. Also, he was the first athlete ever to sign with Nike, a then new corporation and much smaller than it is today. He was and still is a role model for many runners, and his “Go Pre” t-shirts, and other remembrances of him, can still be seen today. Some of the records that he set also still stand today. If Pre had lived on, there is no telling what he could have accomplished. His “never give up” attitude is one that should be admired and copied for many years to come. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” - Steve Prefontaine


Information for this story was corrected after MY HERO was notified by Linda Prefontaine on 17-Aug-04 that, "I just read your info about my brother. You didn't get all of your facts right. He was not born on Jan. 5th. It was the 25th. He did not go to Oregon State University. He, as everyone knows, went to the University of Oregon. He was not named Pre by his fans. It was a nickname that we both had growing up. Just thought you should have accurate information if you are going to publish it online. Linda Prefontaine

Page created on 1/20/2015 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/20/2015 12:00:00 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Go Pre! - Has nice pics and good information
National Distance Running Hall of Fame - A brief description of Pre and information on other famous runners
The Great Steve Prefontaine - A very good site with links, quotes, and pics

Extra Info

Check out Tom Jordan's "Pre: The Story of America's Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine". Also look for the video "Fire on the Track: the Steve Prefontaine Story" for more information.
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