Forty years ago, Steve Prefontaine set the American record in the 5,000 meters at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. In honor of the legendary distance runner, SI.com dug through the photo archives. Here's what we found. *** At the age of 19, Pre, then a freshman at the University of Oregon, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The article, titled "The Freshman And The Great" Guru, can be found here.
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Pre, the only son of a hard-working middle-class family from Oregon, didn't start running competitively until the eighth grade. But once he started, he couldn't stop. Pre dominated domestic competition, but said his forays into international competition (like this meet in West Germany seen to the left) proved to be a learning experience.
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As a sophomore in high school, Pre failed to qualify for states. The failure only further motivated him. "I was really bitter," Prefontaine said of that summer. "Really angry with myself. I was sick. ... I flogged myself in practice. All I did was run. On the beach. In the hills."
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During his career, Pre broke his or other's records 14 times, broke the four-minute mile barrier nines times and owned every American record (eight in total) between 2,000 and 10,000 meters and between two and six miles.
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Pre dons an ironic STOP PRE T-shirt after breaking the American record in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The mark would stand as a meet record (Pre would break his own record a year later) until Galen Rupp surpassed it during the 2012 trials.
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Pre liked to come out hard and stay up front during races. The strategy sometimes came back to hurt him, but more often than not, it lead to moments like this, where Pre just left his competitors in the dust.
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After his record-setting performance at the U.S. trials, Pre traveled to the Munich Games to run the 5,000 meters for Team USA. At 21, he was two years younger than anyone else in the 5,000 field.
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In Munich, at the 1972 Summer Games, Pre took the lead in the 5,000 meters with a mile to go. But his hard-charging style wasn't made to last ...
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With less than 600 meters remaining in the Olympic 5,000 meters, Pre faded. He would ultimately finish fourth behind Finland's Lasse Viren, Tunisia's Mohamed Gammoudi and England's Ian Stewart, who passed Pre for the final medal less than 10 meters from the finish line. It was Pre's only Olympic appearance.
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Steve Prefontaine died in a car crash on May 30, 1975. At the time of his death, he held every American track record from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters.
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