The saddest day in American track and field

I was a high school senior when I walked into the kitchen as my mother prepared breakfast on May 30th,1975. On the radio was news of the death of America’s top track and field distance runner – Steve Prefontaine.

This poster I purchased forty years ago is pinned to a wall in my basement.

This poster I purchased forty years ago is pinned to a wall in my basement.

He was only twenty-four years old, and I was truly struck by his death in a one-car accident in Eugene, Oregon. I couldn’t help thinking how such a talented, charismatic runner was going from setting records to being buried in the ground.

He was a young college student when I watched him on TV challenging for the lead with a half lap to go in the 1972 Olympic 5000 meters, only to get edged for a medal by the older, more experienced favorites.

When I was in high school, before Pre’s death, a teacher assigned a collage project which I have little memory of. Among the hundreds of magazines we had for cutting out photos, I came across a 1971 Sports Illustrated with Pre on the cover. I pilfered it, and after reading it over and over, I eventually boxed it and put it in my closet with other mementos where it sat for years.pre magazine 2

Because Pre is the track and field equivalent of movie-star James Dean, his untimely death has made this edition valuable. I only recently discovered that ones in excellent condition can sell for up to $500.

I saw Pre but once in-person – when he won the NCAA cross-country championship that was held in Spokane in 1973.

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