Gary Wieneke has enjoyed emmense success in 27 years as head coach of the Fighting Illini menís track and field team.
Year in and year out, Wieneke has developed nationally-competitive teams and standout athletes in both track and cross country. Thanks in no small part to Wienekeís presence, the University of Illinois has become known for having one of the elite track and field programs in the entire country.
In the fall of 1997, Wieneke was honored by his former athletes and by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) for his 30-plus years of dedication to and success at the University of Illinois. On Sept. 5, 1997, nearly 100 track alumni returned to honor Wieneke with a banquet and reunion weekend. He also was awarded with an honorary Varsity ďIĒ athletic letter by the DIA.
As Wieneke wraps up his 34th year as head cross country coach and begins his 27th year as track and field coach, he shows no sign of letting up. His current squad returns 10 of 16 Big Ten placewinners from the 2000 season.
During his tenure at Illinois, Wieneke has accomplished seemingly everything. He has won five indoor and six outdoor Big Ten Conference track titles, a cross country title, a runner-up finish at the 1988 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and a tie for fourth at the 1995 NCAA indoor meet.
In 1991, Wieneke was inducted into the Drake Relays Coaches Hall of Fame and was selected to the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He also was named to the East Moline High School Hall of Fame in February 1993.
Wieneke was named the 1994 Big Ten Outdoor Track Coach of the Year after guiding the Illini to the conference title. He also was named the Big Ten Outdoor Coach of the Year in 1988 and 1989. Wieneke guided the Fighting Illini to a second-place finish at the NCAA indoor championships and a seventh-place finish at the NCAA outdoor championships in 1988. Both track finishes were the highest for any Big Ten school since Illinois placed fourth indoors and seventh outdoors in 1977.
Under Wienekeís tutelage, Illinois won consecutive Big Ten championships in both indoor and outdoor competition from 1987 to 1989. Three of the past-five seasons, the Illini have finished runners-up in the indoors.
In addition to a fourth-place finish at the indoor NCAA meet in 1995, nine other Wieneke-coached teams have finished among the top 20 at the NCAA indoor championships. The most recent squad to accomplish that feat was the 1998 team, placing 17th at the NCAA indoors.
Illinois has won a total of six Big Ten outdoor titles under Wienekeís guidance. Similarly, UI has finished among the top 20 outdoors nationally six times, including a 16th-place finish in 1996.
In cross country, Illinois has been among the nationís top 10 on six occasions, including a seventh-place finish in 1987. The Fighting Illini have finished in the Big Tenís upper division in cross country 26 times in his 34 years.
Throughout the world of track, Wieneke is regarded by many as the nationís finest middle distance coach. He has guided 16 different runners to All-America honors, and many of those earned multiple awards. Since 1971, 20 different Illini middle and long distance runners have won 53 Big Ten titles.
In 1999, Bobby True broke the collegiate record in the 600 meters on the way to his sixth Big Ten title, running a time of 1:17.35. He finished fifth at the NCAA indoors in the 800m, setting the all-time Big Ten record of 1:46.96. True competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, running the 800 meters for his native country Liberia.
After winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 1999, Jason Van Swol continued his dominance in the half mile, winning conference titles both indoors and outdoors. He also competed at both NCAA meets in 2000, and competed at the US Olympic Trials this past summer.
Three-time Olympian Craig Virgin won the 1975 NCAA Cross Country title under Wieneke and still holds the Big Ten record in the 10,000 meters. Three-time Olympian Marko Koers won two 800 meter NCAA titles and a 1,500 meter title between 1993-96. Koers is the Big Ten record holder in the outdoor 800 and 1,500. Wieneke also coached 1976 Olympian Mike Durkin.
Not evening mentioning the dozens of sprinters and field events competitors who have earned national accolades under Wieneke, several relay teams also have succeeded over his two decades. In 1998, the indoor distance medley relay team earned All-America honors with a 2nd place finish at the NCAAís.
Nationally known and respected, Wieneke was coach of the U.S. Junior National Team in 1989 and has served as chairman of the middle distance events for the U.S. Olympic Committee, head coach for the Midwest regional team at the USOC National Sports Festival, and as coach for the U.S. team at the 1979 World Cup of Track and Field.
Wieneke is an eight-time NCAA District IV Coach of the Year and was named NCAA National Indoor Coach of the Year in 1987.
Wieneke came to Illinois from Guilford High School in Rockford, Ill., where he was head track and field coach for three seasons. Prior to that, he coached at Locust Junior High (Wilmette, Ill.) and at New Trier High School (Winnetka, Ill.). His first formal college coaching position was at Bowling Green State University in 1962-63, where he served as a graduate assistant while working toward a masterís degree.
Wieneke received his bachelorís degree in physical education from Augustana College (Ill.) in 1962, where he was a four-year letter winner in both track and cross country. During his career, he set the school record in the 880-yard run, in addition to sharing two relay records.
Prior to enrolling at Augustana, Wieneke served three years in the U.S. Army. He and his wife, Peggy, reside in Champaign.
Serving as a volunteer assistant for Wieneke with the middle distance and distance athletes this season is Chris Saunders. Saunders earned two letters in track and one in cross country at Illinois from 1994-96 after transferring from South Dakota. In 1995, he earned All-American honors running the 1,200 meter leg of Illinois' distance medley relay team that set the school record of 9:36.33. Saunders graduated from Illinois in 1996 with a bachelorís degree in elementary education. He previously coached the Champaign Central High School girlsí track and cross country program for three years, and is currently a fifth grade teacher at Barkstall Elementary school in Champaign.