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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Fifty years ago a college senior named Larry Wieczorek was training for his specialty — the mile run — on a clay-dirt surface in the University of Iowa Fieldhouse.
Today he is watching action at the second annual Larry Wieczorek Invitational on a world-class 200-meter banked track in the University of Iowa Recreation Building.
“You can’t beat progress,” Wieczorek said. “Things keep getting better for the sport and the kids.”
Watching this particular track and field meet stirs emotions for Wieczorek, but not in ways you might imagine. Yes, the meet is called the Larry Wieczorek Invitational, but in his mind, the Larry Wieczorek is his father.
“I’ll tell you something that is special to me: when I look over and see Larry Wieczorek on the (video) board,” Wieczorek said. “My dad was Larry Wieczorek and my dad has passed away. He didn’t go to college and to see my dad’s name on the meet is touching to me.”
Wieczorek has more than his father to thank for his development as a successful student-athlete and coach. He said he “accidentally stumbled” out for cross country and track and field as a sophomore at Proviso West High School in suburban Chicago. Wieczorek soon discovered he had talent as a runner…a lot of talent. He won Illinois state mile titles in 1963 and 1964 and his time as a senior (4:14.5) set a state record.
Recruited and coached by Francis Cretzmeyer at the University of Iowa, Wieczorek exceled, becoming a six-time Big Ten champion and four-time All-American.
“I owe a lot to the mile run,” he said. “I would never have been to the University of Iowa if it wasn’t for the mile. I got recruited and because I won the state championship in Illinois in the mile run, I come to the University of Iowa on a track scholarship, and here I am 50 years later sitting at the meet.”
Not just any meet.
There will be 32 professional track and field athletes in the field, including Olympic medalists and world champions. Collegiate teams are from Iowa, Arizona, Florida State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana State, Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
“All five power conferences are represented and then you have all the pros,” Wieczorek said. “It is amazing the job (Iowa director of track and field) Joey (Woody) and the coaching staff have done to get these people to this venue.”
Woody replaced Wieczorek as Iowa’s director of track and field in July 2014. That means Wieczorek has been retired for three-plus years, but he still joins his wife Jackie on daily walks outside for an hour. He laughs when comparing the evolution of the sport he loves to his life in exercise.
“This is de-evolution,” Wieczorek said. “I have gone from the runner to the jogger to now the walker. I haven’t hit the mall yet for walking.”
Plenty more one-liners will certainly be spoken over the next two days by Wieczorek, one of the good guys of the sport. He will chide photographers that there are complaints that there aren’t enough images of him on the school’s website, hawkeyesports.com. He will meet, greet, and laugh with meet officials, coaches, fans, and former Hawkeyes.
He will also sit somewhere near the track’s start-finish line and reflect on more than five decades as a University of Iowa student-athlete, coach, and ambassador for the sport of track and field.
“Oh boy, it’s kind of hard to put into words,” Wieczorek said. “This is going to be one of the best athletic events ever on the campus of the University of Iowa.”