Steve Prefontaine - Without Limits

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Pre' Death

Sports Illustrated photo of Steve Bence & Steve Prefontaine  May 29, 1975
Sports Illustrated Photo

May 29-30, 1975

Pre died in the early morning hours of Friday May 30, 1975. We raced at Hawyard Field the previous Thursday evening. To the left is Pre talking to me before the 800m. Pre ran 5000m in what turned out to be his final race.  Pre died about 6 hours after this picture was taken.

[from Tom Jordan's book] "Against the unbearableness of Steve Prefontaine's death, it is comforting to know that virtually everyone he cared about was close to him on the last night of his life."

Matt Centrowitz, Steve Bence, Steve Prefontaine, Mark Feig
Photo by Jim Seylor (Pre's friend since grade school)

The picture to the left was taken the same Thursday mentioned above just before we left Pre's house.  Pre wanted us at his house to play cards to kill time before the meet. The 4 of us anchored THE GREAT RACE (a fund-raising relay from Eugene to Corvallis against Oregon State runners finishing at the UO / OSU halftime).

Pre had the trophy in his house for months.  We (Matt Centrowitz, Steve Bence, Pre, and Mark Feig) finally got our group shot hours before he died.


Photo by Don Chadez

His last race over, Pre took several victory laps, saying thanks to the people of Eugene.  At one point, he stopped and talked with his family who had come from Coos Bay to watch the meet.  After signing autographs, he went to the apartment of his friends Mark Feig and Steve Bence to shower. 

Later, Pre stopped by the Oregon awards banquet and talked to Bill Dellinger about his training.  After a brief visit, he and his girlfriend, Nancy Allman {Pre was dating Nancy instead of Mary at the time of his death}, left for a party being held by Geoff Hollister up at his house to celebrate the end of the Finnish tour.


Photo by Geoff Parks

First, however, Pre made his ritual stop at the Paddock for congratulations and a few beers.  Then he went to the party about 10:00 p.m. 

Shorter, Moore, and the Finns were there.  Pre's parents were there.  Walt McClure, too.  Pre was happy and relieved that the tour was over.  According to some of the guests there, he drank about six beers in the two hours he remained at the party. 

At 12:15 a.m., Pre left with Nancy and Frank.  "We all three got into the MG and drove down to the UO ticket office where Nancy had left her car and let her off," Shorter told Jerry Uhrhammer of the Eugene Register-Guard.  "Then he drove me home." 

Shorter was staying with the Ken Moores at their home on one of the hills encircling Eugene.  He and Pre sat in the car for a few minutes, discussing what their stand would be on the AAU moratorium.  Both agreed that they would not duck the meet, but would run their specialties all-out, and then take on the AAU.  With that, Shorter got out of the car, and Pre drove on down the hill.

Steve Prefontaine and Mary Marckx ... Pre's MGB.
Photo from Mary Marckx photo album

What exactly happened at the bottom of Skyline Boulevard is open to question.  It was a road Pre had run along hundreds of times in his years in Eugene.  As it approaches the intersection with Birch Lane, there is a sharp curve.  Although there was no indication of excessive speed, Pre's 1973 MGB crossed the center line, went over the curb and hit one wall of the natural rock that lines either side of the street.  His car flipped over, pinning him underneath.  The MG was equipped with a roll bar, but Pre was not wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident.  He apparently did not die instantly, but suffocated from the impact and weight of the car on his chest. 

There were skid marks for 40 feet from the wall, indicating that he had slammed on the brakes after losing control of the car.  Why he lost control is unknown. 


Moments after the accident, another car, also an MG, came on the scene.  The occupant, seeing someone pinned under the overturned auto, apparently panicked and sped off to get his father, a doctor.  By the time neighbors had alerted the police and they arrived at the accident, there was no longer a pulse.  Pre was dead. 

An autopsy performed the next day showed that the level of alcohol in Pre's blood was 0.16 percent, above the Oregon legal limit of 0.10 percent.  Perhaps his driving wa impaired enough that he simply misjudged the curve and his approach speed.  Perhaps, as one policeman speculated, he was reaching for his cassette tape of John Denver's "Back Home Again" and took his eyes off the road.  Perhaps he failed to make the turn for an altogether different reason. 

The result is the same.


Photo by Don Chadez

[From August 1975 Track & Field News]

Flags at half-mast, the scoreboard clock ticking away, and silence.  Absolute silence.  Eugene was saying good-bye to Steve Prefontaine.  At the end of the ceremony, the crowd stood, applauding the time on the clock - 12:36.2 - a time Pre once said he would be satisfied with in the three mile. photo by Don Chadez

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