April 25, 2013
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It isn’t often that four-time Olympic medalist Jeremy Wariner doesn’t draw top billing at a track and field event, especially the Drake Relays.
But the relays — now in its 104th year — are held in Des Moines, Iowa, heart of the Hawkeye state. And when anyone toes the line in the presence of Iowa royalty there, they typically are relegated to “that other guy” status.
Larry Wieczorek, director of track and field at the University of Iowa, and Wariner, will be inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame tonight in a ceremony in Sheslow Auditorium, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (CT).
“The closer it gets, the more meaningful it is,” Wieczorek said. “I have memories going back to the 60s — one that flashes into my mind is meeting (Olympic sprint champion) Wilma Rudolph in the stands. I have a snapshot of myself with her.”
There is another prized photo in Wieczorek’s collection — an image of him competing alongside Jim Ryun in a distance event on the crushed red brick at the Drake Relays, while legendary Jim Duncan calls the action. Ryun is the last American to hold the world record in the mile.
“Wiz has won Big Ten titles here, he has won Drake Relays titles, but more than anything, the Drake Relays Hall of Fame is a testament of who people are. Wiz is one of the very, very best of all time. This is going to sound stupid, but he is a sweetheart, a wonderful human being. You might compete hard against a Larry Wieczorek team, but you will never get a better person in the world to work with or work for.”
Minnesota track coach
Wieczorek was a six-time Big Ten champion and four-time All-American as a cross country and track runner at Iowa. He began coaching at his alma mater in 1985 as assistant track and field coach; he was named head cross country coach in 1987; and head track and field coach in 1997.
“He has a huge heart, he loves the sport, and the kids love him in return,” said Mike Jay, current voice of the Drake Relays. “I’m not saying the honor is overdue, but it is due. Win or lose, he is a great man for our sport.”
The inclusion of Wieczorek means that every head men’s track and field coach at the University of Iowa since 1921 has been inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame. George Bresnahan (UI head coach from 1921-48) was welcomed in 1978, and Francis Cretzmeyer (1948-78), who coached Wieczorek, was received in 1986.
Retiring Minnesota coach Gary Wilson was inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame in 2005. Wieczorek acknowledged Wilson’s dedication to the sport April 20 at the Musco Twilight XIV meet in Iowa City. Wilson returned the compliments.
“Wiz has won Big Ten titles here, he has won Drake Relays titles, but more than anything, the Drake Relays Hall of Fame is a testament of who people are,” Wilson said. “Wiz is one of the very, very best of all time. This is going to sound stupid, but he is a sweetheart, a wonderful human being. You might compete hard against a Larry Wieczorek team, but you will never get a better person in the world to work with or work for.”
As a “position coach,” Wieczorek has coached Big Ten champions in the shot put (Chris Gambol, 1987) and the 5,000-meter run (Stetson Steele, 2000). Steele was the 5K champion at the 2000 Drake Relays and Gambol was runner-up in the shot put at the 1987 Drake Relays (he was later awarded the title when Lars Nilsen of SMU was disqualified).
In 2011, the UI won the women’s and men’s sprint medley relay titles in back-to-back races in a matter of a half hour. During a post-race interview, Wieczorek began to glow when the announcer said, “This must be why they call it the Hawkeye state.” Those races were anchored by Bethany Praska and Erik Sowinski, two former Hawkeyes who are running professionally.
The Drake Relays has always been a special place for Wieczorek, who attended Proviso (Ill.) East High School before setting school records for the Hawkeyes in the one, two, three, four, and five-mile runs.
“It’s the Hawkeye state, we’re the Hawkeyes, and the Drake Relays is like a home meet for us,” Wieczorek said. “I’m from the Chicago suburbs, but I’m an adopted Iowan. I hope they receive me as someone who loves the state of Iowa and loves the University of Iowa.”
What Others are Saying About Coach Wiz
“This is well-deserved, maybe over-due recognition. Coach Wiz comes to work every day and he is excited. He is probably every bit as excited today as he was the first day he went through the office door 28 years ago as an assistant coach.”
Layne Anderson, UI head track and field coach
“It’s exciting. He has been a coach at Iowa a long time and has been going to the Drake Relays for a long time. Being from Iowa, going to the Drake Relays is a pretty big deal. As an athlete, just competing there is a pretty big deal, so to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is an honor that not a whole lot of people get.”
Ethan Holmes, UI senior hurdler/sprinter
“Coach Wiz is such a great person. For him to finally get into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame says a lot about his personality and the athletes he brings in to compete for Iowa.”
Jeffrey Herron, former UI high/long jumper