Harry Gill, the founder of Gill Athletics, Inc., was a highly successful athlete and long-time track & field coach at the University of Illinois.
Gill attended the Harvard School of Physical Training and was a multi-event star at the turn of the century, defeating the three-time U.S. champion in what was then known as the “all around” (similar to today’s decathlon). At one time, he also held the world record in the discus.
Gill began his coaching career at Beloit College (WI), but he was released in 1903 because he lacked a college degree. Shortly thereafter, Gill was hired as Illinois’s head track coach, a position he held until 1929. Gill briefly returned to Illinois from 1931-33 before retiring from coaching. In 1921, he organized the very first NCAA championship in any sport. His Illinois team won that inaugural outdoor track & field championship, as well as the 1927 NCAA championship, and won a total of 22 Big Ten indoor and outdoor track & field championships during Gill’s tenure. His career record was an impressive 111-24 (.822). Gill’s Illinois athletes achieved an unprecedented feat at the 1924 Olympic Games, scoring more points than any every other nation’s entire team.
Among the successful individual athletes he coached were fellow USTFCCCA Hall of Famer Charles “Chick” Werner, whom he coached from an aspiring high jumper into the 1927 U.S. champion in the 120 yard hurdles; “Bud” Evans, former world record holder in the 220 yard dash; and H.M. Fitch, Silver Medalist in the 1924 Olympic 400m. Gill also coached Avery Brundage, who later became President of the International Athletic Federation.
However, perhaps Gill’s most enduring legacy is in track & field equipment. In 1918, Gill started production of his own equipment, beginning with an ash javelin. By 1922, his enterprise had become so successful that he was able to offer a full line of track & field equipment. Gill’s company became the force behind many equipment innovations in track & field, included a flex test to match pole vault poles to a vaulter’s weight, hurdle improvements that led to the first tubular steel hurdle, and adjustable pedal starting blocks.