Coach/Director, National Academy of Distance Running
294 NZ national medals
Two NZ national age-group records
Three NZ national track records
18 runners on US university scholarships
19 runners represented NZ overseas
Five times Nelson Sports Coach of Year
Champion coach at Univ. of North Texas
Competed in four US Olympic Trials
Greg Lautenslager had no intention of going into coaching. He retired from running at age 35 after the 1992 United States Olympic Track and Field Trials and pursued a career as a sports journalist. A few years later he had an epiphany. He had spent 20 years in the sport of distance running and was mentored by several of the greatest coaches in the world. “If I don’t use what I have learned to help other athletes, then it will be a terrible waste of knowledge,’’ he thought.
Lautenslager started a summer running programme for high school and university runners in Dallas, Texas in 1997 and the next year he was named the cross country and assistant track and field coach at the University of North Texas. His impact on the sport was immediate. In 3 1/2 years, his athletes won seven Big West and SunBelt Conference titles in track and cross country. His cross country team won the 2000 Sun Belt Conference Cross Country title with four first-year university students and a junior college transfer on 1 1/2 scholarships. His track runners dominated the conference and led North Texas in 2000 to its first conference track and field title in 26 years. One of his runners, Paul Ndachi, finished 45th in the 1999 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Two of his other runners, Debbie Thornhill and Kyle King, would go on to earn All America honours at the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
In 2002, Lautenslager moved with his family to Nelson, New Zealand and immediately began coaching for the Waimea Harriers and Athletics Nelson. In the past 17 years his runners have collected 294 national medals. Twelve teams have won national cross country and road relay team titles, and his runners have captured 35 individual titles. Seventeen of his runners earned full athletics scholarships to NCAA Division I universities in the United States. Dallas Bowden won 11 national titles, finished 11th in the 2006 World Youth Championships in the 1,500m, and set the New Zealand M16 1,500m record at 3:46.98. Dominic Channon won five national titles, finished 40th in the 2008 World Junior Cross Country Championships, and set the New Zealand M18 3,000m record at 8:09.61. Other national champions include Mandy Russ (1,500m), Julian Matthews (1,500m), Harry Dixon (cross country and track), Peter Meffan (NZ Secondary Schools Road), Josie Wilcox (mountain running), Mike Lowe (cross country), Sami Jordan (mountain running), Sam Mackay-Wright (cross country), Thomas Andersen (mountain running), Jared Lautenslager (Track), and Craig Lautenslager (Track, Cross Country, and Half Marathon). Matthews finished ninth in the 1,500m final at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, 16th in the 1,500m at the 2015 World Track & Field Championships in Beijing, China, and competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Lautenslager has more pride in athletes who have succeeded off the track. Five of his athletes have won Dux from college and most of his former runners have earned university degrees. Three former runners have become doctors. There are several lawyers, bankers, pharmacists, teachers, a fashion executive, a photographer, a television reporter, graphic artists, engineers, and business managers. No doubt the skills learned from Coach Lautenslager has sent them on a path to a better life. In turn, they will inspire others to become good citizens.
BORN TO RUN
Lautenslager was born in Columbus, Ohio in the U.S. and moved with his family to Dallas, Texas when he was two years old. He took up running in 1972 as a freshman at Bishop Lynch High School. Under the tutelage of Brent Thorne, Lautenslager slowly emerged as one of the top junior runners in Texas. He followed Thorne to North Mesquite High School and won the 1976 UIL State Class 4A mile title in 4:12.5. He still holds the mile and two mile school records at Bishop Lynch and North Mesquite. He accepted a full scholarship to Texas Tech University. He broke the three-mile Texas Tech school record, which happened to be owned by his coach Roger Ellis, the first time he ever ran that distance. He improved his 5,000m time to 13:44.1, under Coach Marc Johnson, for second place at the 1980 Penn Relays. He won 28 races while at Texas Tech and held the 5,000m school record for 30 years.
After competing in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Lautenslager moved to Eugene, Oregon and competed for Nike. He was coached by Athletics West coaches Dick Quax, the former 5,000m world record holder and 1976 Olympic silver medalist from New Zealand, and Bob Sevene, who coached 1984 Olympic Women’s Marathon Champion Joan Benoit Samuelson. Lautenslager qualified for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 5,000m and 10,000m and improved his times to 7:54 (3,000m), 13:33.9 (5,000m), and 28.32.1 (10,000m) by 1986. He then moved to Boston and coached himself to the best season of his career, in 1987. At a meet in Bern, Switzerland he ran 13:33.39 to break the 5,000m stadium record and defeat 1984 Olympic 10,000m champion Alberto Cova of Italy and 1984 Olympic 5,000m silver medalist Markus Ryffel. Eight days later, Lautenslager ran 28:08.39 to finish second in the 10,000m at a meet in Paris and defeated World Record Holder Fernando Mamede of Portugal and World Championships silver medalist Domingos Castro of Portugal. Lautenslager followed that with an 8:31 for fourth place in the two mile at a meet in Gateshead, England. The 10km time ranked as the 28th fastest time in the world for 1987 and was the third best in the U.S. Lautenslager finished tenth in the 10,000m and seventh in the 5,000m at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. He returned to Bern that summer and ran a personal best 7:51 in the 3,000m.
ONE CAREER ENDS, ANOTHER BEGINS
Lautenslager moved back to Dallas in 1990 and trained with Dr Robert Vaughan, an exercise physiologist who coached five-time Olympian Francie Larrieu Smith. At the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials in New Orleans, Lautenslager finished 10th in the 5,000m and missed making the U.S. Olympic team by seven seconds. He concluded his competitive career with a fourth-place finish at the 1992 Dallas White Rock Marathon.
Lautenslager wrote for the Dallas Morning News from 1991-2001. His weekly running column ran in the Dallas Morning News and the Arlington Morning News for 10 years. He wrote more than 3,000 stories and covered more than 35 different sports. He wrote a column for Runner Triathlete News for 20 years. Lautenslager’s debut novel, Following the Flame, was published in 2005. His second novel, Ghosts of the Gridiron, was published in 2017.
Lautenslager served as a national coach for New Zealand at the 2008 Down Under Challenge in Gold Coast, Australia and was named Sports Coach of the Year at the Nelson Sports Person of the Year Awards five times.. He also manages and coaches New Zealand athletes on his annual California Track and Field Tour. He continues to run and train with his athletes, won three gold medals in his age group in the 5,000m, 1,500m, and the 400m at the 2013 New Zealand Masters Track and Field Championships and was named the South Island Masters Track Athlete of the Year and the New Zealand Masters Athletics Middle Distance Athlete of the Year.
Lautenslager’s three sons – Craig (27), Jeff (24), and Jared (22) – have continued the family running tradition. Craig graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, where he set three school records and won and six Sun Belt Conference titles and led UTA to eight conference team titles is cross country and track. He finished 13th in the 5,000m at the 2017 NCAA Track & Field Championship Finals. He won three New Zealand titles before returning to Texas, where he works as as software developer while still pursuing his running career. Jeff, a 4:03 miler and a top middle distance runner at Boise State University, helped his team to 10th place in the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships. He graduated in 2019 and works as a graphic designer in Boise, while still training. Jared, the 2017 New Zealand junior 3,000m and 5,000m champion, won two Sun Belt Conference team titles – cross country and indoor track distance medley – at UT-Arlington. He is currently working and training in Nelson. Coach Lautenslager continues to train his sons, while still running with his athletes. He has logged more than 160,000 kilometres during his lifetime.