Sports Zone, Springfield

Dellinger – Springfield and UO great – answers the Hall’s call

EUGENE – How dedicated of an athlete was Bill Dellinger?

The legendary University of Oregon distance runner – after setting numerous national and world records – decided to hang up his shoes in 1960, after the Rome Olympics, so he could begin teaching and move on with his life. 

Three years later, something magical happened. 

“In ‘63, he got the bug. He started training, he knew it would be hard,” said Pat Tyson, who was speaking on Dellinger’s behalf Sunday at the Hult Center, where Dellinger was one of 14 athletes inducted into the Collegiate Track & Field and Cross Country Athlete Hall of Fame.

Dellinger, 90, has trouble speaking and is wheelchair-bound after suffering a stroke at age 66 – two years after retiring from his 25-year run as Oregon’s men’s track coach. 

“He was working full-time, but – lo and behold – he made the Olympic team and made his first final, and then won the bronze medal. That was the thing he was most proud of,” said Tyson, who is beginning his 16th season as Gonzaga’s head track coach. “Looking back, he knew after three years of retirement, and gaining a bunch of weight, that was his No. 1 accomplishment.”

It’s all a far cry from his days of growing up and running for Springfield High, then eventually being among the first crew of coaches, from 1960-66, when Thurston opened. “So many good memories,” Dellinger said. 

“Because of his stroke, it’s a little difficult for him to speak, but he’s incredibly grateful. He wants me to pass that on,” said Tyson, who was roommates and close friends with the incomparable Steve Prefontaine, who was just 24 when he died in a one-car accident in 1975 near his home in Eugene.

Dellinger was Prefontaine’s coach. They meshed together like peanut butter and jelly. 

“They had so much in common,” said Rudy Chapa, another one of Dellinger’s exceptional runners who shared the stage with his coach to speak with former ESPN anchor Neil Everett, who interviewed all of the athletes. “Bill was from Grants Pass and Springfield, and Pre was from Coos Bay, and both wanted to run for UO’s legendary track program. Bill had full confidence in Pre that he would do everything he would ask of him, and that trust never, ever wavered. And he let Pre be Pre – he was a free spirit and Bill made the adjustments to allow him to flourish.” 

Roster of stars

Dellinger coached many other big-name athletes, including Mary Decker Slaney, who moved to Eugene while looking for a coach. 

“She was one of the finest athletes he could ever coach,” Chapa said. “Remember when he talked about that ‘trust’ factor. Same thing with Mary.” 

Even though he was making national headlines Sunday, Dellinger said he was equally proud to be “the little guy from Springfield High School” to earn recognition. 

In 2009, he was inducted into the Millers’ Hall of Fame. While at Thurston, he helped groom the Colts’ first state champion, as Jan McNeale captured the 1965 state cross country championship with a time of 4:47. 

Through it all, Dellinger said he has cherished his time as a coach above all else

“He’s a multiple record-holder, but he loved being a coach more than anything else,” Chapa said. “That 4-5-year relationship meant so much to him. Watching  them as they start their careers, get married, have families and watching them all the way along as they develop their lives, that’s what really matters. That’s what a coach does. You learn lessons through those relationships.”

Yep, that same dedication Dellinger exhibited as a distance runner stayed with him when he replaced Bob Bowerman – a legend in his own right – as Oregon’s coach. 

As usual, many of the first-time visitors to TrackTown USA, a nickname for the Track Capital of the World, were impressed by how knowledgeable many of the local track fans are. 

“When you come to TrackTown, you come here to people who know their track,” said Larry Myricks, high jump star out of Mississippi College. 



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