by Heba Hosny in Stories

America’s Gift to Runners of All Time: Steve Prefontaine

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Throughout his brief yet amazing twenty four years life span, Steve Prefontaine stunt the world with his extraordinary running accomplishments, growing from a home-town hero, to a record-setting college phenomenon, and finally to an internationally acclaimed track star.

Pre, as his adoring fans prefer to call him, was born Coos Bay, Oregon on January 25th, 1951. His rare combination of talent, star-quality, feisty determination, courage and persistence paved the way for his remarkable journey. Interestingly, his passion for running manifested itself at an early age when he was a student at Marshfield High School. Since then, his hunger for excellence never stopped until his tragic death in 1975.

About the legend

During his school years, Pre set a national school record in the two-mile race and broke nineteen national high school track records. He graduated from High School in 1969 and moved on to achieve more victories: he became a two-time Cross County State Champion and a two-time two-mile State Champion besides winning the State Championship in the mile during his senior season. Also during the same season, Pre established a new National two-mile record timing 8:41.5 in Corvallis and he kept that record for years. He capped his high school success by placing fourth in the three-mile race held by AAU National Championships, where he was chosen to compete internationally on the USA team.

Something inside of me just said ‘Hey, wait a minute, I want to beat him,’ and I just took off – Steve Prefontaine

Steve joined the University of Oregon and was running under his legendary coach Bill Bowerman. During his university years, he won three I NCAA National College Cross County Championships and four consecutive three-mile College Outdoor titles. During his U of O years, Pre quickly earned an excellent reputation for his beautiful yet aggressive front racing style, by going out hard and never relinquishing the lead. He soon became a self-made legend not only in Oregon, but nationwide, appearing on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” magazine at the age of nineteen. In addition, Pre was the first athlete to sign a contract with Nike in 1974.

In 1972, Steve won the Olympic Trials for the 5,000-meters race in front of a room crowded with devoted fans at the Hayward Field in Eugene. Later that fall, Steve represented the USA in Munich Summer Olympic Games, where he finished fourth, narrowly missing the medal, in one the most jam-packed 5,000-meter races in Olympic history! His next goal was winning the Summer Olympics held in Montreal in 1976. Sadly, he couldn’t. At the time of his tragic death in May of 1975, Pre have held every American distance record from 2,000-meters and up to 10,000-meters. During his rather short running journey, he managed to win 120 races out of 153.


Pre’s magnificent story was told in two feature films: “Prefontaine” in 1997, with actor Jared Leto playing Prefontaine) and “Without Limits” in 1998, with Billy Crudup playing Prefontaine. He was also featured in the 1995 documentary “Fire on the Track.

In 1984, the President of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce proposed to the Prefontaine Memorial Committee to create an annual award for North Bend/ Coos Bay distinguished student-athlete to be presented during the Annual Awards Banquet and they actually started that wonderful tradition since 1985.

As a small expression of love, Coos Bay citizens, Pre’s hometown, spared no effort to honor their favorite son. They placed a commemorative monument adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce in the Bay Area, displaying a bronze likeness of Pre and a list of all his records. Nearby, the Prefontaine Memorial Gallery, located at the Coos Art Museum, holds the permanent collection of Pre’s awards and memorabilia, as well as numerous photos highlighting his brilliant running career.

In addition, Steve Prefontaine’s memory is honored every year at the “Annual Prefontaine Memorial Run”, a well-organized yet challenging 10K road race across one of Pre’s old training courses, with its finishing line at the high school track where he first competed. It’s a two-day community celebration offering exciting events for the entire family.

You’re warmly invited you to visit Coos Bay every year on the 18th of September and enjoy running where Pre’s legend began.

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