March 2008I’VE LONG DREADED the day when I’d have to write this column, but at the same time I take no small pride in dedicating this one to a man whose name won’t mean anything to all but a small fraction of you. It’s dedicated to Willi Krause, who recently died—after a long and most fruitful life—at age 98.
And while the words are about Willi, I write them because I know that each of you has in his past at least one coach who had a monumental role in making you into the person you are today. Your tale wouldn’t be exactly the same as mine, but the passion at the core would be the same.
Somebody who took a raw young kid and opened new worlds; somebody probably like a second father (or mother) to you. So this column is really about all those coaches, particularly those who have labored in anonymity, content just in the satisfaction that comes from watching kids grow under their tutelage.
It was the road trips I’ll remember most; a secondary education taught on the fly. Willi waxing at length about the free spirits he admired—the philosopher Diogenes, Wolf Larsen from The Sea Wolf—on European history and politics; his experiences on the Eastern Front as a Luftwaffe mechanic; running bacon from Moscow to Berlin in the post-WWII black market.
There really was a world 50 miles outside the small town I grew up in!
Willi was the only real track coach I ever had, and while you haven’t heard of him, he had major chops, sending three different athletes to the Olympics from two different countries:
•Erika Fisch, 4th in the ‘56 Olympic long jump for Germany, and a 5-time World Ranker in the 80 Hurdles.
•Diane Gerace, 5th in the ‘64 high jump for Canada, and 15th in the pentathlon. (You probably know who her son is: former LA Laker Rick Fox.)
•Gerry Moro, 10th in the ‘64 vault for Canada, and 16th in the decathlon. He was Oregon’s first 16-foot vaulter.
Willi, who quickly mastered coaching the newfangled fiberglass pole, also directed Bob Yard of Washington State, winner of the first ever NCAA Indoor title.
It might be a bit of a misnomer to call Willi a “track” coach. Mere running didn’t interest him all that much. While he realized that proper technique and training could improve anybody’s running, no matter what the distance, his fascination lay with taking natural running talent and bending it towards technical pursuits.
In every sprinter he saw a hurdler; in every distance runner he believed there was a steeplechaser; in every jumper he saw a decathlete/heptathlete.
If you turned out for Willi’s club you learned something about all the events. Every spring, everybody turned out for the decathlon, even the throwers. Just ask Penn women’s field coach Tony Tenisci, a hammer thrower good enough to take 3rd in the NCAA as a frosh. Seeing him hurdle was a treat. Seeing me pole vault was also a treat, but fortunately there isn’t any film.
To you, Willi, prost!