Much can change over the course of five decades, but at Augustana College (Ill.) at least one thing has remained constant for the better part of a half-century: head men’s track & field and cross country coach Paul Olsen. In 47 years as the head track & field coach and 45 years with cross country, Olsen has guided the Vikings to success at both the conference and national level in both sports.
He first took over the cross country program in 1966, and since then the Vikings have appeared at the Division III championships 24 times. Among those appearances are 10 top-10 team finishes, including a 1980 team that finished runner-up by just four points. The year prior his team finished fourth, and he has guided the program to two fifth-place finishes in 1974 and 1992. Individually, his runners have earned All-America honors 24 times with three individual national champions.
His success at the conference level in cross country has been just as consistent. The Vikings won back-to-back College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) titles in 1969 and 1970, and have finished runner-up in the conference 28 times and finished no lower than fourth. Seven individual conference titles have been won by five runners wearing Augustana colors since Olsen has taken over.
After taking over the cross country program in 1966, he took the helm of the men’s track & field program just a few short years later in 1969 and has guided it to the same levels of success as he did the fall program. Right out of the gates Olsen mentored the track & field program to five CCIW titles in his first six and five straight CCIW titles from 1980 to 1984; all told, 12 CCIW team crowns to his credit with the most recent in 2010.
His guidance has resulted in 213 individual league titles and 27 relay titles outdoors, and 31 individual indoor crowns and seven relay championships.
Nationally, his outdoor squads have recorded 13 top-10 finishes, including national runner-up showings in 1975 and 1981. During a five-year period from 1992 to 1996 the Vikings recorded five consecutive top-10 finishes, culminating in a fourth-place finish in 1996. Indoors his teams have posted four top-10 finishes, including sixth-place results in both 1995 and 1998. In all, he has coached 22 national champions and 162 All-America selections.
He is a professor in the English department at Augustana, and is reported as one of the most popular teachers on campus. He has been honored by the American Association for Higher Education and has delivered the final lecture at graduation 11 times.