Analysis of Without Limits and Steve Prefontaine's life. Final Grade: A-


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Although another movie was also made about the life of Steve Prefontaine (title "Prefontaine") Without Limits appears to be the most in-depth look at the athlete's life. There are numerous websites dedicated to Pre's legacy and a few of them discuss one or both of the movies and the events that surrounded Pre's life and mysterious death. Steve Bence, one of Pre's former teammates has compiled an impressive website that is organized around the movie's timeline. A smaller site that is just about Without Limits is found on Cine Matter. The official webiste of Without Limits, by Warner Bros. is very impressive and includes storyboard sketches, behind the scenes info and production notes. Information from this website was compiled after examining all of these websites and from the book Pre: The Story of America's Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine by Tom Jordan.


For some bizarre reason, Warner Bros. never fully released Without Limits past a limited release. The majority of reviews seem to be poitivg.. Read Roger Ebert's 1998 review from the Chicago Sun-Times; Shawn Levy's review in The Oregonian; or Owen Glieberman's review for Entertainment Weekly.

Some events in Pre's life (including his death) are unknown and the movie's writers and producers suggest explanations. This is interesting because one of the writers, Kenny Moore was a good friend of Pre and a former runner.

  • Pre always said he cut his foot in the swimming pool prior to the 1970 NCAA Championships. The film suggests it was during sex with a girl he had just met in Des Moines, Iowa days before the race.


Listen to the Without Limits trailer.
  • No one knows for sure what heppened on the night of Pre's death. The autopsy declared that Pre had a blood alcohol level of .16 percent yet the movie doesn't show him drinking at the party before his death. The autopsy report also indicated that Pre was not wearing a seat belt and did not die immediately but suffocated from the impact of the weight of the car on his chest and According to Bence's website, one policeman on the scene speculated that Pre was reaching for his John Denver cassette tape and took his eyes off the road for one second too long and misjudged the curve.
  • The movie compressed Pre's first two collegiate races to make him go one-on-one with Stanford star Don Kardong.
  • Pre was no longer dating Mary Marckz at the time of his death and had a new girlfriend named Nancy Allman who is never mentioned in the film. Pre dropped Nancy and runner Frank Shorter off before his death. (In the movie he just drives Shorter home and is returning to the party to see Mary.)
  • While the movie does show Frank Shorter with Pre in the Munich Olympics and in Finland running, there is no mention that Shorter won the '72 Gold Medal in the marathon. (last American male to do so.)

Some of the most impressive scenes in Without Limits are the running scenes. Actual BBC clips from the 1972 Olympics are used and spliced in with scenes featuring actors. The producers and editors spent days studying the footage to be as accurate as possible (see photos to right). Other things that are accurate:

  • Bill Bowerman did invent NIKE shoes and did develop the first sole patterns with his wife's waffle iron.
  • Pre led a majority of the 5,000 at the 1972 Olympics before finishing fourth. He was the odds on favorite to win the 5,000 at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal (which was again won by Finnish runner Lasse Viren in a time that was 2 seconds faster than the 1972 finals)
  • Pre did help bring down the AAU and earn rights for amateur athletes.
  • Pre's teammate Mac Wilkins won a Gold medal in discus in 1976.
  • Pre still holds numerous American running records.

1972 olympics

actual photo from 1972 Olympics. (photo by Don Chadez.)

Photo from Without Limits of '72 Olympic scene. (photo by Linda Chren.)

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