Steve Prefontaine, Through the Eyes of Olympian Galen Rupp
On the anniversary of Pre's death, a fellow record-breaking runner reflects on his life and legacy.
Fred Kaplan/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Published May 30, 2018
Published 24 days ago
It's the rare athlete who is able to transcend sports: Pele, Ali, and Jackie Robinson are among an elite few. But Steve Prefontaine, the most dominant American distance runner in history, fits the bill. "Pre" set American running records at every distance from two miles to 10,000 meters, and inspired a generation of runners. Tragically, in 1975, and at just 24, he was killed in a car accident. Four decades after his death, his legacy continues to inspire athletes at all levels — perhaps none more than runner Galen Rupp. Like Pre, Rupp is an Oregon native and attended University of Oregon, excelling on the very same Hayward Field track and in the very same events. On the anniversary of Pre's death, FOTO spoke with Rupp, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and American record holder in the 10,000m, about his favorite photos of the iconic and inspirational figure.
Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesNCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS, 1972"Consistency is always something I’ve strived for in my own career," Rupp told FOTO, "and Pre defined that quality. This picture of him running relaxed in the 1972 NCAA Championships reminds me of how consistently dominant he was. He never lost a collegiate race at 5,000 or 10,000 meters. Anybody can have a great day where they feel good and everything aligns, but Pre always brought his A game. I’m sure that there were plenty of races he ran where he didn’t feel good, but by pure will and desire he always found a way to get the job done."
Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty ImagesUS OLYMPIC TRIALS, 1972"Pre did so much to elevate the sport of track and field, and he captured the imagination of so many people around the world. But he also had a special, intimate relationship with the Eugene community," says Rupp. "I think this is a real cool photo because it represents the connection Pre had with the Oregon fans. He fed off of the crowd and they always did their part to lift him to so many incredible performances at Hayward Field, including his blazing, record-setting 5,000 meter run (pictured)."James Drake/Sports Illustrated/Getty ImagesWITH COACH BOWERMAN, 1970"The relationship between an athlete and coach is so important. This picture shows legendary Oregon Track coach Bill Bowerman in 1970. He had such a big influence on Pre. He always knew what buttons to push and how to get the most out of all of his athletes. Similarly," Rupp told FOTO," I've been fortunate to have such a great coach and mentor in Alberto Salazar from the time I started running. Like Bowerman, he knows how to get the most out of me in training; when to hold me back and when I need a good kick in the ass."Jerry Cooke/Sports Illustrated/Getty ImagesMUNICH SUMMER OLYMPICS, 1972"I love looking at the faces of everyone in this picture from the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Pre is leading, looking focused and in control, putting all his concentration into what is in front of him and continuing to push the pace and make people hurt. He may have come in fourth and missed out on an Olympic medal," says Rupp, "but he made this into a pure guts race."
Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesSPEAKING AT CAMP, 1972"It’s awesome to see how all of the kids here seem to be hanging on Pre's every word. Pre was such an inspiration to so many future generations of athletes. When my mom was a promising young runner, she once met Pre after a track meet and still remembers being inspired by the conversation."Bettmann ArchiveCALIFORNIA RELAYS, 1975"Breaking records has always been important to me ever since I started running seriously, and it is all because of Pre. He set every American record from 2,000-10,000m distances while running for the Oregon Track Club, an amazing feat that has yet to matched. Many track athletes specialize in one event," says Rupp, "but Pre was so good at so many different disciplines. That's why I like this picture of him winning the two-mile at the 1975 California Relays."Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesAAU CHAMPIONSHIPS, 1971"Pre famously said that 'to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.' Well, this picture following his victory in the three-mile race at the AAU Championships is the embodiment of that statement," says Rupp. "It shows the all-out effort Pre was famous for. This is a feeling all runners know: complete exhaustion, but complete satisfaction knowing that you gave absolutely everything you had."
Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesBEACH RUN, 1972"So much of who Pre was and why he was so great was shaped by his hometown of Coos Bay, a small town on the Oregon coast. Here, he seems so free, running on the beach near his home. There is nothing like going back for a run where you first fell in love with the sport. For me," says Rupp, "that means running in Mt. Tabor park in Portland, where I grew up."Ed Lacey/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesUS OLYMPIC TRIALS, 1972"It doesn’t get any better than Pre running in an Oregon singlet, winning the 5,000 in front of his home fans at the 1972 Olympic trials in Eugene. One of the reasons I went to the University of Oregon," Rupp told FOTO, "was to be able to wear Ducks' green and yellow and compete at Hayward Field in front of the most passionate fans in track and field. Pre is the reason for that."Robert Beck /Sports Illustrated/Getty ImageFollow Galen Rupp on Instagram.