How did Steve Prefontaine die? Long-distance runner was just 24 at time of his death

The Prefontaine Classic, named after Steve Prefontaine, is the longest-running outdoor invitational track and field meet in America

                            How did Steve Prefontaine die? Long-distance runner was just 24 at time of his death
Steve Prefontaine was part of the 70s 'running boom' (Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy /Allsport)

There is much anticipation as Sha’Carri Richardson readies to race against Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Shericka Jackson. The event is all the more exciting since the American could not go to the Tokyo Olympics, where the three runners finished at the top in the 100-meter event earlier this month. At the Prefontaine Classic on August 21, 2021, all four sprinters will compete with a group of five others. 

The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track and field meet in America. Named after Steve Prefontaine, the race is coming back after a break in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is all the more exciting following the Tokyo Olympics - specifically for Richardson's fans who are eager to watch her in a race. 


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Who was Steve Prefontaine?

If you are a sports enthusiast, there is no introduction required for Steve Prefontaine. One might recall him from the 1997 movie 'Prefontaine' that starred Jared Leto in the titular role. A year later, Billy Crudup played the legendary track and field runner in 'Without Limits'. Both the movies were received positively by viewers and critics alike and shed light on his life, pursuit and death. 

Prefontaine was born on January 25, 1951, in Coos Bay, Oregon. He grew up with his two sisters Neta and Linda in a house that was built by their father. In junior high, Prefontaine was on his school's football and basketball teams but was reportedly rarely allowed to play because of his short stature. It was in the eighth grade he saw several high school cross country team members practice jogging. At the time, he had thought of the activity as a mundane one. But it was later that year that he began to realise he was able to compete well in longer distance races.

By the second week of the daily mile runs, it is reported that Prefontaine was able to finish second in the group. This newfound success and athletic ability that he possessed made him fall in love with cross country running. And that is when it all started. 

While running for the Oregon Track Club, Prefontaine set American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters, as he prepared for the 1976 Olympics. Prefontaine's career, alongside those of Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter, and Bill Rodgers, generated considerable media coverage, which helped inspire the 1970s "running boom."

The American long-distance runner competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. 

How did Steve Prefontaine die?

Prefontaine tragically died after a car accident in 1975 at the age of 24. His car was flipped with him lying under the wreck. By the time medics arrived, he was pronounced dead. It had been reported that his blood alcohol content was found by the Eugene Police Department to be 0.16.

The official cause of his death was traumatic asphyxiation. Prefontaine's body was buried in his hometown of Coos Bay at Sunset Memorial Park