RUNNERS REUNITED X EXPANDS TO THE MIDWEST
2-TIME WORLD CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPION CRAIG VIRGIN
Event’s 10th Outing Welcomes Craig Virgin, 3-time US Track & Field Olympian,
Craig Virgin Set the National Outdoor High School 2-Mile Record,
Virgin is Best Known for Being the First (and Only)
American Man to Win the IAAF World
Cross Country Championships;
He did it Twice!!
FULLERTON, Calif. -- Illinois distance legend, CRAIG VIRGIN, Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Illinois Class of ’73, was at Orange County bar ’n’ grill hotspot Joe’s Tavern here Sat. July 17 for the tenth edition of Runners Reunited (RRU X). Virgin is unique in that he was a prep superstar, continued his success at the college level and achieved world-class status as a distance runner on all surfaces: cross country, track and the roads. While U.S. runners have racked up gold medals at every Olympic distance event at one time or another, Craig Virgin is the first (and still only) American man to win the IAAF World Cross Country Championships; He did it twice, found himself surrounded by several dozen California high school elite runners from the 1950s thru 2000s, 151 to be exact, gathered tonight.
Craig Virgin’s storied running career almost never happened; in fact any sport of any kind seemed inconceivable. At age five, he was diagnosed with a life threatening congenital urological disease and surgery failed to fix the problem... for the next eight years, monitoring, testing and antibiotics kept Craig alive... until at 13, he underwent successful reconstructive surgery in eighth grade.
Virgin entered Lebanon High School where he would establish himself in cross country early. One day after his 14th birthday, he showed up for his first day of cross country practice, wearing his junior high gym suit and Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star basketball shoes. The team was instructed to run five-miles, 15 laps around the one-third mile dirt path, behind the school. Craig broke away from the team and lapped them all. Virgin did this for five days and then was so sore that he could hardly walk, so he quit the cross country team and went out for baseball. He saw he couldn’t beat out the starting second baseman so he went back to Coach HANK FELDT and said he’d like to run just this one season and give it a try, where Craig would embark on a mythical running career that would span 23 years... his disorder was not fully resolved until 1994, when his right kidney was removed, two years after he retired.
Craig won his first cross country race against rival Mascoutah High School. At sectionals, he got stuck behind runners early in the race on the narrow, wooded course. The inexperienced Greyhound runner was trapped, unable to pass; he placed outside the first seven -not qualifying for the state meet. That spring, the slender farmboy first gained notability in the two-mile at the District meet, Virgin raced to a 9:45 breaking the age-14 record of 9:51.0 by MANNY MAHON (Homestead HS, CA ‘64). Advancing to the state meet, Craig faced DAVE MERRICK (New Lennox Lincoln Way High, ‘71) the top distance junior & third best nationally. He won the 2-mile in 8:59.0, as Virgin placed 7th clocking a 9:32.0, lowering Mahon's age-14 record now by 19 full seconds.
Sophomore year in cross country, Virgin went undefeated going into the state meet and encountered Dave Merrick again. Craig went out with him, fading to 6th in the final mile. Then, Lebanon's running phenomenon, wrapped up his junior cross country season going undefeated and won the state meet, by 30 seconds, with a 13:59.3 at Detweiller Park, Peoria, hacking 50 seconds off the Detweiller course record!!
Track; the state meet, Virgin won a tough state meet double (4:09.2, 8:51.9); his mile was third best in the nation. The 2M is second best, behind the famed, national junior record, 8:48 of CURTIS BECK (Santa Monica, CA ’73), and a world record for 16-year-olds, breaking the 8:56.6 set by Merrick. Craig won the triple crown for state individual titles: cross country, Track, the distance double: 1 & 2-mile. Craig made his first national team at the AAU National Junior Championships, a meet usually dominated by college freshman, Virgin placed second, earning a spot to represent the U.S. at the first ever USA-USSR Junior Dual meet in Sacramento, CA. In the 5,000 meter race, Craig set a fast pace in the 90° heat, and led until the last lap... in the end, the red-clad, seasoned 19 year-old, Soviets swept past the, 16 year-old, youngster to win, demonstrating a hard lesson in team tactics.
Senior year, Craig, a distance sensation, won his second individual cross country title, and lowered his own state meet course record at Detweiller Park... to a blistering 13:50.6!! Remarkably, Virgin’s time remains the fastest-ever on the now-classic Peoria cross country course (used for the state championships) which has only been approached by within five seconds by CHRIS DERRICK (Neuqua Valley) in 2007 (13:51.8) and LUKAS VERZBICAS (Sandburg) in 2010 (13:53.8). Craig won his final 48 high school cross country races; setting course records in 47 of the 48 competitions.
Craig’s outdoor track campaign borders on the unbelievable.... He performed frequently and at a high quality (20 races). Counting a mile-two mile double in 4:08.5 & 8:48.6, he did double duty eight times. Craig broke 9 minutes for two-miles nine times (4 under 8:50), out of ten, within the span of two months. The tenth, a 9:24.2, was run in near hurricane conditions! At the state meet mile prelims, Crag ran 4:10. The next day (88°), he ran an 8:42.6 2M victory, only 1.0 off of STEVE PREFONTAINE’s (Marshfield, OR, ‘69) national mark. Distraught by missing the record, he ran “only” 4:12.2 for second place in the mile. A week later he ran a 4:05.5. Eight days later, at the International Prep Invitational, in 94° heat, Craig set the national outdoor high school 2-mile record of 8:40.9 (beating Prefontaine's mark of 8:41.5, though slightly short of GERRY LINDGREN's (Rogers, WA, ‘64) 8:40.0 indoor record from 1964). That year, 1973 Craig was a unanimous choice for Track and Field News’ "High School Athlete of the Year.”
All told Craig is considered one of the greatest prep distance runners of all-time. He owned 12 world age group and national class records from two-miles to 5000m. He became the first sophomore to break nine minutes for two-miles and for 15 year-olds. He ran the fastest prep 3M and 5000m times in the US, his junior and senior year. His national outdoor prep two-mile record of 8:40.9 stood for 36 years.
Craig chose to stay in the Prairie State attending University of Illinois, Champaign in an era when older seasoned foreign athletes were allowed to dominate the collegiate running landscape. Virgin won many prodigious honors including nine Big-10 Conference Championships and the 1975 NCAA Cross Country individual title by outdueling defending champion Englishman NICK ROSE of Western Kentucky from the rough courses of Europe and the hills of Kentucky. Concluding college, Virgin was the top American in 8 NCAA National competitions.
After college Virgin become a top American road racer with victories such as Atlanta’s Peachtree 10K. At the AAU Championships (’79) at Mt. Sac -Craig became the fastest 10,000 meter track runner in American History, racing to a 27:39.4 breaking Prefontaine's American record.
Sunday, March 9, 1980, Paris, France, the Longchampse racecourse for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. The pre race favorite was Great Britain’s Nick Rose. He attacked from the beginning, running away from the field early, in the 11900 meter race, and looked like he was on his way to certain victory. With a half-mile left, Rose began to falter and HANS-JÜRGEN ORTHMANN surged to close the gap, breaking away from the chase pack which included Virgin. Orthmann caught Rose and took the lead with 400 meters to go at which point Virgin changed from a distance runner to a sprinter over the thick grassy horse-trodden straightaway. Virgin caught the tiring Rose and shot past him. Virgin pulled straight behind Orthmann, he looked left. Virgin exploded past the 26-year-old West German on the right, along the rail. And the 23 year-old farmboy from the flatlands of Illinois made U.S. cross country history.
July 17, 1980, Paris, France, Charléty Stadium, 10,000m. Craig lowered his American record down to 27:29:16. Only HENRY RONO's 27:22.4 (then) world record was faster.
March 28, 1981, Madrid, Spain. The World Cross Country Championships. Late in the 12,000 meter race, Virgin and Ethiopia’s MOHAMMED KEDIR battled sometimes shoulder to shoulder over the last 600 meters. With 200 meters to go Virgin sprinted, breaking away 100 meters to the finish and securing his second consecutive individual title, emphasizing the previous season’s world cross country championship triumphant run.
Less than a month later, Virgin placed second at the 1981 Boston Marathon to TOSHIHIKO SEKO who topped BILL RODGERS' course record by one second. Virgin’s time, 2:10:26, was #6 all-time US. In 3rd place was Bill Rodgers stopping the clock at 2:10:34.
Craig retired from competitive racing in 1992. He was a three-time Olympic qualifier at 10,000m.
In 2001, Craig was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, and in 2011, he was inducted into the National USA Track & Field Hall of Fame. Also in 2011, he was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. In 2017, Virgin was inducted into the University of Illinois inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame class. Craig’s biography “Virgin Territory, The Story of Craig Virgin, America’s Renaissance Runner” is coming out August 8th.
Cross country seemed to be the theme as Craig was joined by three other world champions!!! 1974 world junior (19 and under) cross country winner RICH KIMBALL (De La Salle, Concord, '74) whose distinction got his picture on the May 1974 cover of Runner's World; 1977 world junior cross country victor THOM HUNT (Patrick Henry High School, San Diego, '76). Hunt was also runner-up in ‘76! Also turning up, world junior cross country champion ‘75 BOBBY THOMAS (Glendale, ’74) along with his son’s PHILIP THOMAS (Crescenta Valley ’16). The four world champions gathered together for a historic photo, with commemorative framed photographs of their respective races.
The mile shined bright as American record holder in the mile from 1982-2007 (3:47.69) STEVE SCOTT (Upland High School ‘74) visited along with national junior 2-mile record holder Curtis Beck, who also notched a 4:04.2 mile as a junior, representing 2nd best finish in the class behind JIM RYUN's (East ‘65) 3:59.0 from 1964 and 6th best prep overall in 1972. Also present was ’72 California state mile champion MARK SCHILLING (Garden Grove ’72), who broke the State meet record with a 4:05.4. RRU founder and Loara High School Class of ’75 star 2-miler RALPH SERNA was the national leader for led the mile with a 4:07.0 in 1975.
California was well represented; Craig’s counterpart who was 4th in the voting that year in ’73 for High School Athlete of the Year and a teammate on the junior national team was distance legend TERRY WILLIAMS, who put Lompoc high school on the national running stage. Terry first gained national notice sophomore track season, as he was the nation's #2 tenth grade two-miler with a 9:01.2, behind Virgin. As Williams’ improved he became the individual driving force behind Lompoc’s distance program. Arguably, the first prep super-team. Never before had a prep cross country squad been so deep and talented on a par with a college team. Some of their measurable efforts on the course and around the track are still standing as records over forty years later! The 1972 fall cross country season on the course and actually around the track is where Lompoc would make their mark as perhaps the best team ever in California and one of the best in National history. Winning everything in sight and setting records including the Mt. SAC Invitational. At the Southern Section Finals all five runners of the Lompoc team finished in the top 10 in the CIF race, led by Terry’s course record. The Lompoc squad set National Postal records for the two-mile and Three-mile for the combined times. The record breaking continued into the spring. Lompoc sped a 10:03.0 for the Distance Medley relay breaking the National Record of 10:05.6 set by Essex Catholic with MARTY LIQUORI on the anchor at the Penn Relays in 1966. At Mt. SAC the group went after the Four Mile Record, falling just short of the National All-Time best, with a 17:13.2, the #2 time in Prep History behind Essex Catholic and Liquori's 17:12.2 from 1966. At the state meet, Terry dominated the two-mile (the pinnacle of qualifying for three state meets for the two-mile). Williams’ success wasn’t limited to running. In the classroom, Terry was class Valedictorian with a 4.0 grade point average. Terry was voted Southern California CIF Track & Field Athlete of the year for ’73. Also in ’73 the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce honored Terry with a civic luncheon.
Terry chose to go to the University of Oregon. As a freshman, Williams ran with distance-running legend Steve Prefontaine who led the Ducks to a Pac-8 Conference title, soon to be followed by an NCAA title. The cross country teams won the NCAA title twice and finished second once. Williams was the University of Oregon’s second four-time All American. The first was Prefontaine.
Terry graduated the U of O in ’78 and went to medical school and became Dr. Terry Williams. “I started my medical practice in 1985. Despite being extremely busy as a family medicine physician, I have run daily and remained competitive in local races in the Portland area through 2002. In fact, I was on Alberto Salazar's winning Hood to Coast team in 1993,” said Williams.
2012 Williams of the 1973-74 NCAA cross Country Championship teams were inducted into the University of Oregon Hall of Fame. Also in 2012, Terry was inducted into the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Roundtable Sports Hall of Fame. 2014 Terry along with his teammates of the 1972 Lompoc boys team was inducted into the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational Hall of Fame. “Wonderful experience. Much more than I expected. Great to see old friends like Curtis Beck, Barrie Williams, Mark Schilling, Craig Virgin among others as well as many runner’s from the 1970’s I had not previously met,” said Williams.
Representing Illinios, Craig wasn’t the only out-of-stater as Oregon’s CLAUDETTE GROENENDAAL (North Salem, Oregon ’81) showed up. Claudette captured the state 1500 title at North High and was a standout at the University of Oregon, winning the NCAA Championship in the 1500, with a second in the 800, in 1984 before reversing the order of events her senior year to lead the Oregon women to their lone NCAA track title in 1985. Claudette was presented with a commemorative framed photo of her winning a very close 1500 meter prep race. “Amazing community of runners. What a great event!” said Groenendaal. Claudette and Craig were pictured together in their respective state sweatshirts!
Prep rivals Beck and Williams were joined by MARC GENET (Santa Ana HS ‘72-4:16.4/8:53.4) and GORDON INNES (Upland '72-8:54.4). They were pictured together in action during Beck’s historic 8:48.8 two-mile. They reunited together again, for an epic photo, with commemorative framed photos of that spectacular race.
The ‘72 fall cross country season was revisited again as the top four finishers: Williams, Beck, Serna and BARRIE WILLIAMS (N. Torrance ’73) gathered together... 45 years later for a photo.
Kimball and Serna junior national teammates at 5,000m posed together for a picture. Kimball said, “This was an amazing event again. The caliber of runners from the 70’s and early 80’s that were here made the event the best ever. Thank you Ralph and Dan for doing this for all of us.”
Also making an appearance was Golden State 2-mile champion PETE ROMERO (Reedley, '67) and subject of a Sports Illustrated article, 6/26/67. Pete was gifted with said vintage ’67 Sports Illustrated issue!
Also dropping by was, Portland shoe collector, JORDAN GELLER who brought with him Nike’s greatest sneaker… the famed Moon Shoe, the first waffle under the Nike brand. Nike was in its infancy and ten pairs were cobbled together by hand. Five runners wearing the Moon Shoe started the 1972 Olympic marathon trials. Only MARK COVERT (Burbank, ’68) finished, earning him the distinction as the first athlete to cross a finish line in Nike waffle shoes.
"Attending the 10th Anniversary of Runners Reunited was one of the highlights of my 2017 summer. To be able to see and visit with former star California H.S. runners from the late 60's through early 80's that I had known or run against earlier in my career was a huge thrill for me. Back then, unlike today, there were very few opportunities for the top prep distance runners around the country to run against each other in person. Rather, I would run top race performances on my own and then wait for our next Track & Field News magazine to come in....and quickly turn to Jack Shepard's H.S. Report section.....to see the updated Top 10 list for the season...and figure out "who ran what?" in the prior 30 days! At RRU, I got to meet in person so many of the guys (like Curtis Beck and Ralph Serna) who appeared annually in those lists back then. I even got a chance to renew friendships with guys who made some of my two Junior T & F Teams... like Mark Schilling, Terry Williams, and Gordon Innes. Some, I have not seen since college days! This is an event that I plan on coming back to in the future. Thanks to all at RRU who made my visit possible," said Craig Virgin.
For more information contact: Ralph Serna, RS Prods., .
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