Steve Prefontaine

Biographical information

TypeCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameSteven Roland "Steve"•Prefontaine
Used nameSteve•Prefontaine
Born25 January 1951 in Coos Bay, Oregon (USA)
Died1 June 1975 in Eugene, Oregon (USA)
Measurements175 cm / 63 kg
AffiliationsOregon Ducks, Eugene (USA)
NOC United States


Steve Prefontaine is likely the most legendary American distance runner, not just for his feats on the track, but his manner of winning, and his early, tragic death. He came to the fore as a high school distance runner in Coos Bay, Oregon, where he broke the 2-mile high school record with 8:41.5. Pre then went to the University of Oregon where he won the NCAA 3-miles/5K all four years of his college career (1970-73), the first athlete to win a track title four years consecutively at the NCAAs. He was also NCAA cross-country champion in 1971-73, failing to win only in his freshman year. Pre won the AAU 3-miles in 1971 and 1973, and was Pan Am champion in 1971 over 5K.

Pre was considered a very cocky runner, but he usually lived up to his boasts. Disdaining runners who sat and kicked, he usually set very fast paces, trying to burn off the sprinters. Before the 1972 Olympic 5K, he boasted that he wanted “to go out at world record pace, and then pick it up with a mile to go”. He did not do this, unfortunately, but sat on a slow pace for 2 miles. However, Pre then made that legendary race when he started a long sustained increase of the pace that allowed the field to run the final 1,600 metres at 4-minute pace, but he was outkicked in the final straight to lose a medal. Pre also boasted that he liked to go out fast enough to “put crap into [the other runner’s] legs”. Idolized by fans in his native Oregon, they often wore tee-shirts proclaiming, “Go Pre”. At the 1972 Olympic Trials, some of his competitors wore “Stop Pre” tee-shirts while warming up.

After the 1972 Olympics, Pre started running more distances than simply 5K/3-miles. He was considered to be a contender for the 1976 Olympic gold at either 5K or 10K, but never made it to Montréal. After a meet in Eugene, Oregon in late May 1975, he attended a party after which he crashed his car while heading home. Trapped beneath the car, he was crushed and died before the car was discovered. A large rock near the site of his death has become a memorial, called Pre’s Rock. Next to the rock, a plaque in his memory reads, “For your dedication and loyalty, To your principles and beliefs…, For your love, warmth, and friendship, For your family and friends…, You are missed by so many, And you will never be forgotten…”

At his death he was the American record holder at every distance from 2,000 metres to 10K. He is memorialized by the Prefontaine Classic meet in Eugene. Two movies have been made of his life, and a short biography of his life was written by Tom Jordan, simply entitled Pre.

Personal Bests: 1500 – 3:38.1 (1973); Mile – 3:54.6 (1973); 2000 – 5:01.4 (1975); 2 miles – 8:18.29 (1974); 5000 – 13:21.87 (1974); 10000 – 27:43.6 (1974).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1972 Summer Olympics Athletics USA Steve Prefontaine
5,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 4

Special Notes