Heinonen Announces Retirement at End of Track Season

Breakdown of Heinonen's Pac-10 and NCAA Individual Honors in PDF Format
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Oct. 3, 2002

EUGENE - One of only three University of Oregon coaches to guide the Ducks to an NCAA team title, women's head track and field and head cross country coach Tom Heinonen announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the 2002-03 track and field season.

The 57-year-old native of Minneapolis, Minn., opened the 2002-03 season in his 28th as women's head cross country coach and 27th as women's head track and field mentor. Heinonen currently stands as the dean of Pac-10 women's head track coaches, far ahead of 10th-year UCLA head coach Jeannette Bolden, while his nine combined Pac-10 titles (7 XC, 2 TF) lead active league coaches, ahead of Stanford's Vin Lananna (8 XC), UCLA's Jeannette Bolden (7 TF) and USC's Ron Allice (1 TF).

'I've seen 27 years of exciting track here,' Heinonen said. 'It's been great being a part of it and watching the program develop from the non-scholarship days to NCAA championships and beyond. My first office was above the old gym in Gerlinger Hall - it's a long way from there to the Casanova Center. We started with Becky Sisley's determination and not a lot more than that. Melanie Batiste and Debbie Adams were our first two scholarship athletes, and we've ended up with a ton of All-Americans and more than a few national champions. I'm especially proud of how many of our distance runners have kept running after college. They were successful and still loved running when they finished college.'

During his tenure, he is the only women's coach in NCAA history to have won multiple national titles in outdoor track and field (1985) and cross country (1983, '87), and he was honored as NCAA Coach of the Year following all three national championships. Only former Texas mentor Terry Crawford has won single national crowns in each sport (both in 1986).

His distance squads' consistency stands out nationally, with Heinonen tied with Wisconsin's Peter Tegan for the most national cross country appearances among active coaches (24) - a span that has included top-10 NCAA/AIAW finishes on 18 occasions. He has coached 30 cross country All-Americans, and 53 distance-event All-Americans, including six of the program's 10 all-time NCAA individual champions in track and field. Heinonen's first season as cross country coach in 1975 coincidentally marked the first-ever AIAW harrier championship, with the NCAA cross country championships following in 1981.

In addition, Duck harriers have won 13 of the 27 regional cross country crowns and seven of the 16 Pacific-10 Conference titles under Heinonen. Individually, Ducks have won seven regional and eight Pac-10/NorPac cross country titles - the most of any school in either championship. In track and field, he guided Duck squads to consecutive conference titles in 1991 and '92, and six runner-up finishes since the origination of women's Pac-10 Championships in 1987, not to mention nine straight NorPac titles in the years immediately prior. Overall, his league peers have named him Pac-10 Coach of the Year eight times (6 XC, 2 TF).

'Tom Heinonen has played a significant role not only with his fine track and field program, but also in the evolution of women's athletics at the University of Oregon,' Oregon athletics director Bill Moos said. Not only has Tom given us championship teams and All-America athletes, he has also played an integral role in the overall success of Oregon athletics. We appreciate his many contributions and wish him and his family a wonderful retirement.'

Just as important as the individual and team honors, Heinonen's squads have historically stressed balanced depth between the sprint, distance, jumps and throws disciplines. In the 21 national dual-meet rankings conducted since 1979, Oregon has ranked top five nationally on 13 occasions - first twice (1980, '93), second twice (1981, '92), third six times (1979, '82, '83, '84, '88, '89), fourth once (1985), and fifth twice (1991, '98). In the dual setting, the Ducks have strung together a 121-21 record, including undefeated 12 seasons (1979 (6-0), 1980 (5-0), 1984 (5-0), 1985 (7-0), 1987 (6-0), 1988 (5-0), 1989 (7-0), 1991 (6-0), 1993 (5-0), 2000 (1-0), 2001 (1-0), and 2002 (3-0)).

The squad's broad spectrum of talent under Heinonen is further proven on an individual basis, including 54 conference titles (35 Pac-10, 19 NorPac) spread among 18 events since 1983; 11 national titles (10 NCAA, 4 AIAW) among eight events, and 93 All-America honors among 15 events (83 NCAA, 10 AIAW) since 1979.

His list of former distance pupils include former NCAA champs Leann Warren (1982-1,500), Kathy Hayes (1984-10K), Claudette Groenendaal (800-1985, 1,500-1984), Annette Hand (Peters) (5K-1988) and Melody Fairchild (indoor 3K-1996). Groenendaal still owns the collegiate record in the 800 (1:58.33); Hayes owns the fastest ever 5,000 meters during the outdoor collegiate season (15:23.03); and Warren ranks second all-time in the 1,500 (4:05.88) among collegians. On the all-time U.S. lists, former Ducks rank among the top 10 in the 800 (Groenendaal, 10th, 1:58.33), 3,000 (Peters, ninth, 8:41.97), steeplechase (Lisa (Karnopp) Nye, second, 9:49.41), 5K (Peters, fourth, 14:56.07), and 10K (Peters, fourth, 31:30.89).

Heinonen also guided the post-collegiate career of (Hand) Peters, a 1992 Olympian in the women's 3,000. The former American record holder at 5,000 also qualified for U.S. World Championships teams in 1991, '93 and '97. Other Duck distance runners that went on to compete in the Olympics included marathoners Lisa (Martin) Ondieki - second in 1988 - and Cathy (Schiro) O'Brien, while Fairchild and Rosa Gutierrez also made World Championships appearances in the 5K in 1997 and marathon in 2001, respectively.

Away from collegiate circles, USA Track and Field has selected him as head coach for the U.S.-Great Britain dual meet in 1985, for the West Team in the 1983 National Sports Festival, assistant coach for the West Team in 1982, and junior women's coach for the 1990 World Cross Country Championships. Before it withdrew its sponsorship, he was also tabbed to coach the U.S. squad at the 1993 Goodwill Games. Most recently, he has served as one of two college-coach clinicians at USA Track and Field's National Junior Elite Camp for female distance runners and their coaches from 1988 through 2002.

His administrative and organizational expertise was tapped as co-meet director of the 1988, '91, and '96 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field. He also coordinated the seven cross country races during the 1989 World Veterans' Championships in Eugene.

As an athlete, Heinonen was an equally successful All-America distance runner at the University of Minnesota. After claiming the Big Ten 3-mile title in 1967, he took fifth among Americans and six overall in the national championships 10K later that summer. He graduated from Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in Latin America Area Studies in March, 1968, the day he competed in his first of three World Cross Country Championships (also 1969 and '70).

Among other post-collegiate accomplishments, the 1969 AAU Marathon champion was an Olympic Trials marathon qualifier in 1968 and 1972, and ended his post-collegiate career with a win in the 1975 Seaside Marathon. He made his final competitive foray at the master's level in 1987, running in the Legends Mile (4:43) in the Oregon Twilight meet, and in the national masters championships (5K, 15:58) held at nearby Silke Field in Springfield. His personal bests were 8:55 (2 miles), 13:40 (3 miles) and 28:51 (6 miles).

Heinonen accepted the Oregon post as the Ducks' fourth women's track and field head coach, following Bob Ritson (1975, '76), Ron Brinkert (1973, '74) and Lois Youngen (1972) with all the previous predecessors campus physical education instructors .

Heinonen initially served as head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach under Ritson during the 1975-76 season, and received his master's degree that spring in physical education. The following fall in 1976, he assumed head track duties and started his doctoral work, and in the fall of 1977 became the program's first full-time coach. Prior to officially joining the University of Oregon Department of Intercollegiate Athletics in April 1977, women's track and field was overseen by the campus physical education department.

Prior to his move to Eugene, he served one year in the Peace Corps from 1973-74, with part of the duration in Chile.

'It's been great, but the recruiting has worn me down,' Heinonen said. 'Spending every night on the phone or feeling guilty if I'm not on the phone is not fun. I'll be 58 next July. In the State System that's a good time to leave. Janet (my wife) and I have our health now, and we want to enjoy it. I have lots of energy and there's plenty of volunteering that needs to be done. I'm going to do some, but we're going to travel too.

'First, though, we've got a good, enthusiastic cross country team that's just now exploring its talents. We'd sure like to get to the NCAA's this season. And our track team is loaded with talent. It's the best we've had in years. We have 15 seniors, we've got six all-Americans and a bunch of returning Pac-10 scorers. I'd like to make this last year for me a really good one for our athletes.'

The Duck cross country squad opened the 2002 season last weekend with an eighth-place finish in the Roy Griak Invitational against a field that featured eight top-30 teams, two of which the unranked Ducks edged. During the most recent 2002 track season, the Ducks finished 27th in the NCAA Championships and sixth in the Pac-10 Championships, their best finishes since 1995 and 1999, respectively, to go along with a 3-0 dual record. Individually outdoors, Duck tracksters scored three Pac-10 runner-up crowns, four All-America honors, five NCAA invites, and three automatic and 11 NCAA provisional marks. Indoors, the Ducks added one All-America honor and another NCAA qualifier.

Heinonen (DOB 7-1-45) and wife Janet, a former University of Oregon athletics publicist, are the parents of children Erik (9-21-82), a redshirt freshman for the men's harrier squad this fall, and Liisa (10-5-84).

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