The Best Running Movie of All Time: And The Winner is…. Steve Prefontaine: Fire on the Track

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After 8 months, two Steve Prefontaine Movies battle it out for top honors

By LetsRun.com
December 2001

8 months ago we started our LetsRun.com Best Running Movie of All-Time Voting. We started with 18 movies, narrowed the field down to 8 movies in the first round of voting, then pitted the remaining movies against each other one on one NCAA tournament basketball style, until we narrowed the field to our two finalists, Steve Prefontaine: Fire on the Track and Without Limits. After sitting on the results for 5 months, we’re proud to announce that the Best Running Movie of All-Time is Steve Prefontaine Fire on the Track (a movie which unbelievably we haven’t seen).

We suspect a lot of track and field afficionados haven’t seen Fire on the Track. (Fire on the Track was only in 4th place after our first round of voting when viewers could vote for their 4 favorite movies). However, this movie apparently is a must see, as those that have seen it, love it as it came out on top in the final rounds when it was pitted head to head versus the advancing running movies which were more widely seen by voters. Fire on the Track came out on top over an Academy Award winning film, Chariots of Fire in the semi-finals, and in the finals triumphed over Without Limits, the Steve Prefontaine movie that had big screen publicity and Tom Cruise as a producer.

And Fire on the Track’s triumph over more widely publicized films is exactly why we wanted our viewers to settle the issue of what the best running movie of all-time was. We did not care what Hollywood or the Academy thought. We wanted to know what our hard core running viewers thought was the best running movie of all-time. And now we know. Fire on the Track is a documentary on Steve Prefontaine, America’s top distance runner in the 1970’s whose front running style, brashness, and American records from 2,000m to 10,000m captivated the American track public like no other distance runner. He narrowly missed an Olympic medal in 1972 and then his life was tragically cut short in a car accident. Fire on the Track is excellently produced, has in depth footage of the 1972 Olympic 5k final, with comments from Prefontaine’s competitors.

Update!!!: Now Available on DVD

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the DVD on sale from Amazon.com
Running Movies 2 through 10 below,
with contest recap at bottom of page.

Running Movies 2 through 10 below, with contest recap at bottom of page.

(2) Without Limits
Storyline:
Incredible story of life of Steve Prefontaine who broke numerous American records, just missed an Olympic medal, and revolutionized the idea of how some people race (from the front) before dying in a tragic car wreck in his prime.
Plusses: Prefontaine’s story is worth remembering. Tom Cruise producer. Get a little on foundation of Nike with Bill Bowerman (pre’s coach) being behind this movie.
Minuses: Other movie on Prefontaine, Prefontaine, will steal votes. Some say stretches truth a bit more than Prefontaine. Pre’s romance is stressed more in this movie than in Prefontaine.
Buy the DVD
Buy the VHS
(3) Chariots of Fire
Storyline:
Fascinating story of two Olympic sprinters from Great Britain, Erick Liddell (devout Protestant) and Harold Abrahams (Jew), of vastly different backgrounds who run for different reasons in the 1924 Olympics.
Plusses: Classic. Won 4 Oscars including best picture. Inspirational. Famous soundtrack by Vangelis.
Minuses: Not about distance runners.
Buy the DVD
Buy the VHS
(4) Running Brave
Storyline:
Tells the incredible story of the U.S.’s Billy Mills who had perhaps the greatest upset win ever in the Olympics in the 1964 Tokyo Games 10,000m. Shows obstacles and racism Mills had to overcome as an American-Indian.
Plusses: Incredible story involving racism, inspiration, belief in one’s self. Mills unbelievable race at the Olympics deserves to be told. No one except himself thought he had a shot for gold.
Minuses: A bit hokey? No actual race footage.
Buy the DVD
Buy the VHS

(5) Endurance
Storyline:
Tells the story of perhaps the greatest runner of all-time, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, leading up to his victory in the 1996 Olympic Games. Intersperses footage of Olympic 10k race throughout film.
Plusses: Footage of Gebrselassie running (in Ethiopian and Olympics) is truly incredible and worth seeing in its own right. Bud Greenspan’s race footage is top notch. Most of actors are Gebrselassie’s real family members.
Minuses: Disney produced it, so critics claim many parts are overdramatized. American youth might vote for one of Prefontaine movies instead.
Buy the VHS
(6) Prefontaine
Storyline:
Incredible story of life of Steve Prefontaine who broke numerous American records, just missed an Olympic medal, and revolutionized the idea of how some people race (from the front) before dying in a tragic car wreck in his prime.
Plusses: Prefontaine’s story is worth remembering. Really popular with high schoolers will, get a lot of votes. Documentary style is a bit different than other Prefontaine movie, Without Limits. Same directors made hoop-dreams.
Minuses:Without Limits will steal votes. Pre’s Parents were behind this movie, so it is their version.
Buy this DVD

Buy the VHS
(7) Jericho Mile
Storyline:
Made for TV movie about man serving life sentence in prison who find hope in running. After running a sub 4 minute mile, he trains for the Munich Olympics from prison.
Plusses: Inspirational.
Minuses: Unrealistic. Not factual, but it’s a good movie. Impossible to find to buy (no longer the case thanks to amazon.com)
Buy the DVD

Buy the VHS
(8) Jim Ryun: America’s Greatest Miler
Storyline:
A documentary on the life of runner Jim Ryun featuring exclusive footage of Ryun’s record setting 3:58.3 mile run at the Kansas state championships.
Plusses: Insight into America’s Greatest American miler.
Minuses: Price. the VHScosts $39.95 but is worth it.
Buy the VHS
(9) Loneliness of a Long-Distance Runner
Storyline:
Story of rebellious youth who begins running and competing at a boarding school. British movie.
Plusses: Great Reviews. Also a popular book.
Minuses: Bleak setting. Not about top levels of sport. Besides how many of you all have seen it?
Buy the DVD
Buy the VHS
(10) On the Edge
Storyline:
Story of a promising amateur athlete banned for violating his amateur status who 20 years later decides to make a comeback in the famed Cielo Sea race.
Plusses: Good reviews. Shot on famous Dipsea course in California, course of 2nd oldest race in US.
Minuses: Hard to find.
Buy this Video/DVD

Below: Fire on the Track’s Path to Victory

After 1st RoundSemi-FinalsFinalsWinner
(1) Chariots of Fire 47%
(8) Jim Ryun 14%(1) Chariots of Fire
(4) Fire on the Track 43%
(5) Endurance 39%

(4) Fire on the Track

FIRE ON THE TRACK
51%-49%

(3) Running Brave 44%

(2) Without Limits

(6) Prefontaine 34%(3) Running Brave
(2) Without Limits 46%
(7) Jericho Mile 20%

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