There was no better way to wrap up the 2018 TrackTown Tuesday series than to honor legendary Oregon coach Bill Dellinger in his TrackTown Tuesday debut.
Dellinger was accompanied by three of his former athletes – Rudy Chapa, Mary Slaney and Pat Tyson – and the show also paid tribute to hammer throw extraordinaire Lance Deal.
Dellinger, 84, was welcomed to the Hayward Field track in front of the West Grandstand with a standing ovation from the crowd of 350 people as Slaney helped guide him to his chair.
To start his segment, those in attendance were treated to a special viewing of Dellinger’s bronze medal 5,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. All three of Dellinger’s former athletes couldn’t help but smile as the video showed their former coach finishing third in his third Olympiad.
“Little did people know he was sick with a cold,” said Tyson, a UO distance runner (1971-73) and current head track and field coach at Gonzaga University.
Tyson, a former UO walk-on, shared the story of when Dellinger fought to keep him on the team after former Oregon coach Bill Bowerman wanted to cut athletes from the roster.
“He stood up for me and I’ll never forget that,” Tyson said. “I think that is why we’re friends today.”
Chapa, who won an NCAA title in the 5,000m in 1978 and set an American record in the 3,000m the following year, recalled Dellinger’s official recruiting visit to his hometown of Hammond, Ind. The three things that stood out to him about that visit were pushing Dellinger’s car out of the snow with his family; Dellinger trying to convince him the rain in Oregon wasn’t all that bad, and most important, how Dellinger not once said anything negative about any other program.
“It was a very easy thing to choose Oregon,” Chapa said. “It was Oregon, and it was Dellinger and they wanted me.”
Slaney, the double gold medalist at the 1983 World Championships, moved to Eugene to be coached by Dellinger late in her career – thanks to Steve Prefontaine’s numerous suggestions to do so – and only regrets not doing so sooner.
“He treated me like a human being and not as an athlete,” she said. “It was so refreshing when I started working with Bill.”
No matter the memory, the team or the year each of the athletes were coached by Dellinger, they all agreed that he was a man born to coach.
“It’s part of his DNA,” Tyson said.
If not for Dellinger, they all agreed, they would not be the runners, or people they are today.
“He expected people to come to the University of Oregon and become adults,” Chapa said. “That served so many of us so well beyond running. If you believed in the program and you did what you were supposed to do, you not only ran well but you set yourself up for life.”
The show’s finale honored Deal for his commitment to the sport, the hammer throw and Hayward Field. Deal will retire from his current position of Director of Track and Field venues and Program Support after the UO plays host to its sixth-straight NCAA Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Championships.
Even though he did not compete collegiately for Oregon, Deal left his mark both on the field and in the community.
For the past 10 years, his legacy has stood tall at Hayward Field in the shapes of the throwing cage for hammer and discus throwers – a cage he built himself for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“That is my home,” he said pointing out from the track to the cage.
Deal described his move from Montana to Oregon in March of 1985 as the “best decision” he has ever made.
After a successful tenure as Oregon’s throws coach, and several years of overseeing track events at Hayward Field, Deal will retire to his career as a licensed massage therapist and building hammer cages.
Throughout all of his hammer competitions, his 1996 Olympic silver medal, and all his time on staff at Oregon, the one person he dedicated his success to was his wife, Nancy.
“I meant Nancy two months after I moved here and that was 35 years ago … that honeymoon is still going on,” Deal said as he presented her with flowers and led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to her.
Deal was also presented with a memorable plaque dedicated to his commitment to the hammer throw and Hayward Field.