Anyone can tell me more about the life story of USA athetic Prefontaine who died in 1972 at age 24?
* Born: 25 January 1951
* Birthplace: Coos Bay, Oregon
* Died: 30 May 1975 (automobile crash)
* Best Known As: Oregon running legend and subject of the film Prefontaine
Charismatic, handsome and brashly confident, Steve Prefontaine was one of the leading American distance runners of the early 1970s. He won seven NCAA championships while running for the University of Oregon from 1969-73 (three in cross-country, four in the three-mile race) and finished fourth in the 5000 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Prefontaine set more than a dozen American records at distances from 2000 meters to six miles before his sudden 1975 death in a one-car accident in Eugene, Oregon.
He continued rigorous training at the end of the cross country season in preparation for track. His training was too strenuous and the overworked Prefontaine failed to qualify for the state meet. However, his junior and senior years proved highly successful, with Prefontaine winning every meet, including state, and setting a national high school record his senior year in the two mile race with a time of 8:41.5.
Following high school, Prefontaine enrolled at the University of Oregon in order to continue his running under coach Bill Bowerman, who would later co-found the Nike shoe company. Following his freshman year, he went undefeated, winning three Division I NCAA Cross Country championships and four straight three-mile titles in Track and Field. "Pre" was now the best known athlete in Eugene, becoming a hero to all who watched his races. He was known for going out hard and not relinquishing the lead, a tactic that his fans and fellow competitors admired. The loud chants of "Pre! Pre! Pre!" became a staple at Hayward Field, a mecca for track and field in the USA. Many fans wore shirts proclaiming "LEGEND", which became a sort-of war cry for him. Other fans of his began wearing shirts proclaiming to "Stop Pre" at his meets as a joke. Prefontaine gained national attention, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 19.
He set the American record in the 5000 meter race, the event that took him to the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. Prefontaine narrowly missed a medal there. He was passed with 150m to go and landed a 4th place finish despite leading nearly the entire last mile in a toe-to-toe battle with Lasse Viren. Returning for his senior year at the University of Oregon. Prefontaine ended his collegiate career undefeated in Eugene. It was during his collegiate career that he began to fight the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) which demanded that athletes who wished to remain "amateur" for the Olympics not be paid for appearances in track meets, even though they drew large crowds that generated millions of dollars. Bowerman, who also fought the AAU's restrictions, began calling Prefontaine "Rube" because of his naivety and stubbornness.
Following the University of Oregon he set his sights on the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, setting American records in every race from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.
On May 30, 1975, on the return from a party and dropping off of a friend (Frank Shorter), Prefontaine was driving down a familiar road (Skyline Boulevard) near Hendricks Park, when his car, a gold 1973 MGB, swerved left and hit a rock wall along the side of the street. At age 24, Prefontaine died while trapped under his overturned car. There are speculations as to how he actually managed to lose control of the vehicle. Some say he was trying to change the radio station, while others say he was intoxicated at the time as he had been drinking alcohol earlier that night, a practice that was not uncommon to him. There is strong evidence that a second car may have been involved in the accident. The first witness on the scene, who lived nearby, heard two cars, and then a crash. When he ran outside he was almost run over by the second car. He found Prefontaine flat on his back, still alive but pinned beneath the wreck. Attempting to lift the vehicle off Prefontaine did not work, so he ran to get more help. Unfortunately, by the time he returned with others, the weight of the car crushing down on Prefontaine's chest had killed him. Police later found the driver of the second car; but no charges were ever filed against him.
The death of Prefontaine, who was affectionately called "Pre" and "Rube", proved shocking to many. The Eugene Register-Guard called his death "the end of an era." Whether his death was an alcohol-related fatality remains controversial. Although his blood alcohol content was 0.16, six-hundredths higher than Oregon's legal limit at the time, it was a mortician who tested his blood rather than a medical examiner.
By the time of his death, Prefontaine was an extremely popular athlete, and along with Frank Shorter and Bill Bowerman is attributed with sparking the running boom of the 1970s. His life story has been recorded in movies: 1997's Prefontaine; 1998's Without Limits; and the documentary "Fire on the Track". An annual track event, the Pre Classic, has been held in his honor since 1974. Prefontaine remains an icon, an idol and an obsession in American running.
More Questions & Answers...