USTFCCCA Mourns Passing of Hall of Famer Gary Wieneke
CHAMPAIGN, IL – There was never a question about the fight and competitiveness in long-time University of Illinois track and field, and cross country coach Gary Wieneke. Just ask one of the hundreds of student-athletes whose lives he touched as a coach, mentor and friend.
The hall of fame coach passed away early Thursday (July 8) at the age of 83 following a long battle with cancer, but left behind incredible memories, stories, a competitive spirit and unique sense of humor that will always be remembered by those who knew him.
In Wieneke’s final public appearance on May 22, the new track surface at Demirjian Park was dedicated as Gary R. Wieneke Track. The naming was a joint gift among several of Wieneke’s former Fighting Illini student-athletes, some of whom competed nearly 50 years ago for him, to show their loyalty and admiration for their head coach.
One of the most decorated coaches in Illinois history, Wieneke continually had his Illini teams competing for and winning Big Ten championships during his 36 years as a coach of the track and field, and cross country teams. During his tenure, Wieneke tallied 13 Big Ten titles (six indoor, six outdoor, one cross country) and four NCAA indoor team trophies. His best run at the helm came from 1985-95 when the Illini placed in the top three 20 times in 22 Big Ten meets.
As a result of putting Illinois track in the national spotlight, Wieneke played a major role in the UI twice hosting the outdoor NCAA Championships meet at Memorial Stadium in 1977 and 1979. Known as the “Einstein of the 800 meters,” Wieneke made the Illini a Big Ten and national power in the middle distances, most noticeably in the half-mile and mile. He coached 11 different half-milers to 27 Big Ten titles.
Before taking over as head coach of the track and field and cross country programs, Wieneke spent seven seasons leading the Illinois cross country program. In addition to their success while donning the Orange and Blue, Wieneke guided five of his athletes to Olympic team appearances: Craig Virgin (1976, 1980, 1984), Marko Koers (1992, 1996, 2000), Mike Durkin (1976, 1980), Charlton Ehizuelen (1976) and Bobby True (2000).
Wieneke began his career as a four-year letterwinner in both track and cross country at Augustana College following a three-year stint in the U.S. Army. Graduating with a degree in physical education, Wieneke set a school record in the 880-yard run and shared two relay records.
Following graduation, Wieneke started coaching at Bowling Green State University as a graduate assistant, and then returned to the state of Illinois where he coached at three high schools (Locust Junior High, New Trier High School and Guliford High School) prior to joining the Illinois staff in 1967. Following his retirement from Illinois, Wieneke coached cross country teams in the Unity school district.
In 1989, Wieneke coached the U.S. Junior National Team. Retiring at the end of the 2002-03 season, Wieneke was a nine-time NCAA District IV Coach of the Year, was named the NCAA National Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year in 1987 and garnered three Big Ten Outdoor Coach of the Year honors. Wieneke has been inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Association (USTFCCCA), Drake Relays, Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association and the East Moline High School Halls of Fame. He was inducted into the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in the Class of 2019.