The greatest long distance runner of all time, Steve Prefontaine, died on this day in 1975 in a tragic hit and run in Eugene, Ore.
“Throughout his athletic career, Steve accumulated a great many honors, as well as a multitude of friends and fans,” then-President Gerald Ford wrote to Prefontaine’s parents in a letter obtained by the Examiner. “He was admired as much for his determination, courage, and competitive spirit as for his outstanding ability as a distance runner. We hope the knowledge that your sorrow and sense of loss is shared by your fellow citizens will serve to comfort you in the days ahead.”
Pre, as he was affectionately called, has had a profound impact that’s endured today on runners and non-athletes alike.
This weekend in Oregon, the world’s best track and field athletes are competing in an Olympic trials precursor called the Prefontaine Classic, “the nation’s premier track & field meet.”
Fittingly, Americans have performed well at the event: Most notably, Kendra Harrison shattered the national record for the women’s 100 hurdles on Saturday.
Prefontaine set his first American record at the US vs. USSR All Stars meet at Cal Berkeley in 1971, when he ran the 5,000 meter race in 13 minutes, 30.4 seconds.
Prefontaine’s legend has grown and he’s endeared himself to new generations due to his oftentimes brash quotations. For example, he once said, “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”
But more than anything, his legacy is that of a dreamer who worked hard and achieved his goals.
May it live forever.