Knoxville native, Randy Wilson, is without a doubt, our states best ever 800 meter runner. What I find so unique about Randy is that he WAS NOT a half-miler in high school! He was a Cross Country champion, a Mile champion and High Hurdle champion! In addition, Randy is still the Drake Relays Invitational 800 Meter Run record holder. Some of the best have taken a shot at his1978 winning mark of 1:45.86 over the years, only to come up short. And that is just fine!! Randy Wilson is not only Iowa’s best ever, he is one the best ever in the USA. I had the opportunity to do a “Question and Answer” interview with Randy recently. I hope you enjoy it as we gear up for the 2012 edition of the Drake Relays.
MJ: Tell us a little bit about your running career at Knoxville? You were very successful. Did someone inspire/encourage you to be a runner?
RW: I went out for all of the sports that were offered at Knoxville. Track was just the thing to do in the spring. Gary Wallace, my 9th grade coach entered me in the mile at the first meet that spring. I won, and I was hooked. My junior year, Knoxville started Cross Country, so I went out. I won the State Mile Team race in Ames, then finished 4th at the State Cross Country meet. That spring I was state champ in the mile. During my senior year, I repeated as State champ in the Mile Team race and won State Cross Country. In track, my senior year, I won the 120 yard High Hurdles.
MJ: You could run any event and run it well. Were you a well-rounded athlete? Very
Competitive? Or both?
RW: In my mind I was well rounded. I was All Conference in Basketball and Baseball. I was far from the most gifted athlete. I had to work hard to even be able to compete. Once I figured out I could run distance, I did a lot of running on my own. Such as morning runs and long runs on the weekends. Very honestly, it was just the beginning of the “Running Craze” and there wasn’t a lot of information out there. I just figured I needed to be in better shape than the other guys. That philosophy will still work today, in most cases.
MJ: When did you realize you were, or think you had D-1 talent?
RW: I received recruiting questionnaires from a couple of colleges, so I figured if they were interested in me, I should think about competing at that next level. My mile time at state my junior year was 4:22, which was, one of the fastest that spring, in all classes. I set it as a goal to get a scholarship and run in college, much like a lot of kids today.
MJ: Were you heavily recruited?
RW: Just here in Iowa. After winning State Cross Country my senior year, UNI, Drake and Iowa State showed interest. But it all stopped after my senior year’s state track meet. I sort of changed gears my senior year and dedicated my efforts to the high hurdles, which I won at state. I was not in “miler shape” and faded down the stretch to 5th. I’m sure the coaches thought I was washed up but I knew I could still run at the next level. I just needed the chance.
MJ: Why did you choose Oklahoma?
RW: JD Martin was the Sooner Head Coach. He offered me a partial scholarship, basically sight unseen. He felt there would be a spot for someone who could hurdle and run distance. OU was the only school to offer me any scholarship money so I went for it. The best decision I ever made!
MJ: You were immediately successful at the D-1 level. Why or How?
RW: Two things that physically had an impact on me were year round running and lifting weights. But I think more importantly, I was determined to be the best I could be. When a runner trained and raced at that level, week after week, you either got better or you got whipped! Plus I didn’t want to let my folks down. I was also blessed with wonderful teammates; men that I am still friends with today. We worked our tails off and we trusted each other to not let one another down.
We listened to our coaches and we believed in them. I’ll always remember as the gun went off for the 2 Mile Relay at the 1977 NCAA Indoor Meet in Detroit. I knew we could win. I was the anchor leg, and I knew my teammates would get me at or near the front of the pack. I got the baton in 2nd place, just behind Illinois. Coach Martin told me years later that the Big 10 coaches that were sitting by him said, “It’s over. Nobody has ever beaten that Illinois runner.” The Texas A&M coach leaned over to JD and said, “They ain’t seen Wilson run have they?” I still wear that National Champion ring with pride to this day.
MJ: You won the Big 8 (now the Big 12) Indoor 1000 yard title 4 times. It was never done before or since, and yet the 800 became your trademark. You once held the World Record for the Indoor 800. Tell us a bit about that. Where? How fast?
RW: Winning the Big 8 Indoor Meet 4 years in a row is something I take great pride in. The 1000 is a tough grueling race.
After Oklahoma, I ran for a track club out of Eugene, Oregon called Athletics West and after a meet in New York City several of us flew to Boston for a Sunday afternoon meet in an Armory on a track designed by some engineers at Harvard. Very smooth corners and a super-fast surface. I ran 1:47.1 to break the world indoor record for the half mile. It has been broken many times since then, but I had it for a while!
MJ: Who were some competitors that became rivals?
RW: Some guys I raced against in high school and later in college was Bob Prince, Sioux City East, Kansas State, Leo Meade, Mt. Pleasant, Oklahoma State, Joel Moeller, Central Dewitt, Iowa, and Jeff Myers, Davenport West, Iowa State (Jeff died in a plane crash after the 1978 Big 8 Indoor meet). There were some really quality runners around the state back then. Mike Boit of Kenya was one of my fiercest rivals after college. Don Paige of Villanova and I had some memorable races too.
MJ: Who was the toughest to race against?
RW: Probably Johnny Gray, who currently coaches distance runners at UCLA. I saw him at last year’s NCAA meet at Drake, and he told me I was his mentor when he was coming on to the national scene. I was several years older than Johnny, and as I retired he went on, years later, to set the American Record in the 800 at 1:42.60. Tremendous speed.
MJ: You made the 1980 Olympic team, only to have that dream shattered by the boycott. Do you hold a grudge against President Carter?
RW: I don’t hold a grudge, but I still feel strongly that the boycott was simply a tool to get Carter re-elected. That is certainly a shame and it affected a lot of athletes.
MJ: Have you gotten over it?
RW: I most certainly have. Life goes on. Although every 4 years I watch the Olympics and sometimes wish I could have been part of the Opening Ceremonies and had the chance to race in the Olympic Games. The gold medalist in 1980 ran just one tenth of second faster than I did that summer.
MJ: At the 2008 Olympic Trials, I was there and saw the 1980 team be honored. That had to be a great feeling.
RW: That was a wonderful 4 days. Obviously I would like to thank Nike for setting all that up. I was able to take my wife, Diane, along with me. She didn’t know me at the time I was racing at that level, so it was an eye opener for her. We had a blast, and I was reacquainted with many athletes I hadn’t seen for years. James Robinson and Don Paige, the other 800 meter runners on the ’80 team were there too. Besides, it was awesome to watch a track meet in Eugene, Oregon. It’s almost as good as the Drake Relays!
MJ: What are you doing now?
RW: I am the Activities Director for the Knoxville, Iowa school district. I have recently become a certified Track and Field Official and I give back to the sport by helping at the Drake Relays and the Co-ed state meet. I was an official at the Big 10 Indoor meet at Nebraska, recently as well as the NCAA D-3 meet at Grinnell.
MJ: They don’t run the Invitational 800 at the Relays every year, but when they do, I announce it with my fingers crossed, hoping and praying that record doesn’t get broken. Does it make you nervous to watch it?
RW: I seem to get very anxious when that race gets closer. At a recent Drake Relays officials meeting, Relays Director Brian Brown, indicated he is trying to put an Invitational 800 race together. One year, while I was the Knoxville girls track coach, they ran that race and my 4×4 team was warming up on the infield. Olympic gold medalist, Paul Ereng, narrowly missed breaking the record. As the fans groaned, when the time was posted, those 4 Knoxville girls were jumping for joy on the infield.
MJ: Do you have any words of advice for young folks, today, about chasing their dreams?
RW: Set your goals high, and don’t be afraid of the hard work it takes to reach those goals. Remember, it’s not the destination that is important, but the journey getting there.
- Lifetime bests: 800-1:45.21. Mile-3:58.6
- 5 time Iowa High School State Champion
- 6 time Big 8 Champion
- 5 time All American
- 5 time Drake Relays Champion
- Drake Relays Invitational 800 M run Record Holder
- 1980 Olympic Team member-800 M Run
- Drake Relays Hall of Fame inductee-1984
- IATC Hall of Fame Inductee-1987
In closing, Randy once shared with me, a memory from that Drake Relays record setting 800 meter run in 1978. He said the leaders were going by the scoreboard, when “The Voice of the Drake Relays”, Jim Duncan said, “Knoxville native Randy Wilson is on the move”. Randy said he found another a gear because, “if Jim Duncan says that you are on the move, you had better be on the move!”
“Randy, thanks so much for sharing your story with the track fans of Iowa on “The Next Level”!!