Steve Prefontaine, 40 years after his death, remains perhaps the most influential runner in United States’ history. Saturday, May 30, marks the anniversary of the single-car accident in Eugene, Oregon that took Prefontaine’s life at just 24 years old.
"Pre” – as he was often called – was a trendsetter and “a major reason” that Eugene and the University of Oregon became “the running capital of the U.S.,” according to the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame. Prefontaine – a hall of famer himself – won six collegiate distance titles in his time at the University of Oregon and was dominant in the American running scene. His bold, hard-charging style, and flowing locks of hair, left an indelible image on the sport. Prefontaine, just 21 years old at the time, barely missed out on medaling in the 5000-meter event in his lone Olympic games in 1972 in a memorable race. He pushed the pace before fading by just a couple of strides in the final lap.
Prefontaine was known for his engaging charisma and was a star that inspired runners to take up the sport for years to come. He was also the first-ever athlete to officially sign with Nike, donning shoes designed by Nike co- founder, and University of Oregon track coach, Bill Bowerman. The track legend has also had numerous movies made about his life since he died in 1975.
1. "What I want is to be number one."
2. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
3. “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.”
4. “I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it.”
5. “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”
6. “I’ll tell you one thing, I love every one of them. I’ve thought about the Olympic Games every day of my life since 1968, but there is a breaking point in each race when you wonder if all the sacrifice is really worth it. You think ‘why should I do this? I don’t have to run this hard.’ But that’s when I think about them. They keep me going.”
7. "No one will ever win a 5,000-meter by running an easy two miles. Not against me."
8. "Something inside of me just said 'Hey, wait a minute, I want to beat him,' and I just took off."
9. "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."
10. "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more."