Greg Lautenslager, arguably the most successful sports coach in Nelson this century, is returning to his home state of Texas after a 20-year stint that saw him lead a slew of teams and individuals to New Zealand titles.
Lautenslager has been named the head coach of cross country and track at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas, near where he grew up and worked in the 1990s in Dallas.
“I will be starting up a new program there,” Lautenslager said. “It is tailored made for me, because taking runners from scratch and developing them into champions is what I do.”
Lautenslager moved to Nelson with his wife and three sons in 2002 after an award-winning coaching career at the University of North Texas and a 10-year stint as a sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News. He started in Nelson as a Waimea Harriers’ coach before moving onto head coaching roles with Athletics Nelson, Tasman Centre, Nelson College, and the National Academy of Distance Running.
Lautenslager was named Coach of the Year at the Nelson sports awards five times, including four straight from 2006-2009 and 2017. His runners collected 305 national medals in athletics, cross country, road, and mountain running.
His teams won 12 national titles, including several dominating victories in cross country and road relay. His Tasman team won the 2006 M18 New Zealand Cross Country Country title by placing four runners in the top seven. His 2008 Junior team placed five runners in the top 11 and his Nelson College senior team won the 2007 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship with their three scoring runners in the top eight. His 2008 Athletics Nelson Road Relay team won the junior men’s race by three minutes, and 2011 junior women’s team won by 5 ½ minutes.
Lautenslager’s athletes won 38 titles and set four national records. Dallas Bowden won 11 national titles and never lost a New Zealand Secondary Schools Athletics Championships race. He broke the junior 800m secondary schools record by two seconds and smashed the New Zealand age 16 record with his time of 3:46.98. Dominic Channon won the 2007 senior boys New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country title and won by 45 seconds in 2008 in his successful defence of his New Zealand Cross Country junior title. He also finished 40th in the World Junior Cross Country Championships and set the New Zealand M18 3,000m record in 8:09.61. Harry Dixon followed Channon to the top of the podium at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships and won two other titles.
Julian Matthews followed his 2006 New Zealand Secondary Schools 1,500m title with a successful collegiate and post-collegiate career that landed him in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the 2015 World Championships, and the 2016 Olympic Games.
Eighteen of Lautenslager’s runners, starting with New Zealand junior women’s 1,500m champion Mandy Russ, landed full athletics scholarships to American universities and 21 runners represented New Zealand overseas. His women runners, including Mia Cain-Townley last June, won five silver medals in NZ Secondary Schools Cross Country. Bridie Edwards finished in the top 10 in all five of her Schools nationals and was runner up in the 2017 Australian Cross Country Championships.
Three of his top national runners were his own sons. Craig won New Zealand senior titles in cross country, half marathon, and 10,000m. Jeff won five national medals in athletics and cross country. Jared captured junior titles in the 3,000m and 5,000m. All three earned university scholarships and run professionally under the guidance of their father, whom they will be reunited in Texas.
Lautenslager leaves more than a running legacy in Nelson. “I am leaving so many great memories and runners who became my dear friends,” he said. “I am blessed with all the support that allowed me to keep doing what I love to do.”
Lautenslager was a world-class runner in a competitive career in which he competed in four United States Olympic Track and Field Trials and ran the world’s 28th fastest time (28:08.39) in the 10,000m in 1987. He competed in masters events into his 50’s. He won the 5,000m, 1,500m and 400m in his 55-59 age group at the 2013 New Zealand Masters Track Championships and was named the New Zealand Masters Athletics Middle Distance Runner of the Year. Lautenslager was inducted into the Texas Running Hall of Fame and the Mesquite Athletic Hall of Honor and also is the author of two novels, Following the Flame and Ghosts of the Gridiron.