That photo: Pre’s last race

Pre Lives

When I was tagged and asked to post six random things about myself, I said that this photo gives me the shivers and a lump in the throat. In the comments, Literate Housewife asked me the story behind it.

The photo shows Steve Prefontaine winning the 5,000 meters at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, June 29, 1975. Pre was a legendary distance runner — a brilliant, gutsy competitor from Coos Bay, Oregon, a star at U of O, an Olympian, and an inspiration to innumerable others who, like me, have put on a pair of spikes and lined up at the starting line of a race. He’s an icon. My son’s best friend has a Prefontaine poster on his wall.

The photo captures him at the finish line. The hometown crowd is on its feet. He has crushed the field, defeating, among others, Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter. He reaches to grab the finishing tape — to snatch the triumph, to seize the brilliant ending. He looks back. The sun is setting. The race, everybody, everything, is behind him.

A few hours later he was killed in a car wreck. He was 24.

I keep a quote of his on my desk: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

One response to “That photo: Pre’s last race

  1. I see exactly what you’re saying now. What a beautiful, yet tragic story. Thank you for sharing it.

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