WASHINGTON - The American University track & field team got a rare glimpse into the history of American distance running on Tuesday, April 9, as two-time World Cross Country Championships gold medalist and three-time Olympian Craig Virgin visited campus to speak with the Eagles' squad.
"It was an absolute honor to have Craig come and speak to our teams this afternoon," head coach Sean Graham said. "He is one of the most accomplished distance runners in U.S. history, one of my athletic heroes, and someone who I have admired and looked up to my entire career coaching and racing. Craig has a very moving story, and his life and career story is one that our young men and women will certainly learn from. Our team hopefully learned to set their standards higher and took away lessons about overcoming adversity during his talk."
Virgin is truly a legend in U.S. distance running. He is the only American male to not only win the World Cross Country Championships, but the only one to do it twice after earning gold in 1980 and 1981. He also remains one of only two American men to make three Olympic teams in the 10,000-meter run (1976, 1980, 1984).
But to reach those heights, Virgin had to overcome more than most. Raised on his family farm near Lebanon, Illinois, Virgin suffered from a life-threatening congenital urological disease throughout most of his childhood, causing him tremendous pain and forcing him to endure years of surgeries. When he was in eighth grade he finally underwent reconstructive surgery to gain normal physical function and, by his freshman year of high school, had begun his running career.
"Craig's experiences throughout his career really speak to what we're building here at American. Coming from humble beginnings and striving for success through consistency and hard work to rise to the top of the sport," Graham said. "To have an athlete of Craig's caliber echo the success that comes from culture, dedication, and hard work, and to have the story that backs it up is phenomenal."
Virgin entered his collegiate career at the University of Illinois as one of the most decorated high school cross country runners in the U.S., breaking Steve Prefontaine's national high school record in the two-mile in 8:40.90 - a time that still stands as one of the top times ever recorded at the high school level. The 1973 Track and Field News High School Athlete of the Year, he remains the Illinois state record holder for cross country (13:50.60).
He was a nine-time All-American and nine-time Big Ten champion while at Illinois, including winning the 1975 NCAA Cross Country title. He was a seven-time American record holder in both road and track events, including in the 10k after breaking Steve Prefontaine's record. His 27:29.16 10k PR was the second-fastest time in history at the time.
Virgin is a member of the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the National USA Track & Field Hall of Fame, and the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.
The Eagles entered the heart of the outdoor track season last weekend with a set of exciting personal record performances at the Colonial Relays in Williamsburg, Va. They will look to continue that success this weekend with the George Mason Spring Invitational on Saturday, April 13. The Patriot League Championships, hosted by Navy in Annapolis, Md., are scheduled for Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4.
For the latest on American University Track & Field, stay tuned to AUEagles.com and follow the team on Twitter @AU_TrackXC.