Class of 1973
When Craig Virgin set his 13:50.6 course record for 3 miles XC at Detweiller Park as a Lebanon HS senior in 1972, he thought it might last 5-10 years. But as he watched the 2019 Illinois state championships on the venerable layout last November, 47 years later, the standard was still there for the taking. And when Josh Methner finally surpassed that mark in near-perfect conditions (by less than a second), Virgin was there to congratulate him.
That record was just one of Virgin’s legendary prep accomplishments, but athletic greatness was hardly a given early on. Born in 1955, he grew up on a family farm with a life-threatening congenital urological disease – dealing with years of pain, surgeries and doctors. But in 8th grade, Virgin received reconstructive surgery which allowed him normal physical function and his talent for distance running became quickly apparent.
Virgin ran 9:31.7 for 2M in 9th grade (1970), then 8:57.3 for 2nd at state as a soph. Becoming the best distance prep in the nation as a junior, he improved to 8:51.9 plus 4:09.2 for the mile in a state meet double – then finished 2nd in the AAU Junior 5,000m to be able to represent Team USA in a dual vs. the USSR, where he ran 14:12.3 for 3rd.
That set the stage for Virgin’s glorious senior year in 1973, which included 11 sub-9:00s for 2M (plus 8:10 and 8:16 for 3k) – good for a record-setting 18 sub-9:00s for his career, a mark that still stands. Those were highlighted by a still-standing all-time Illinois record 8:42.6 at his state meet in 90-plus degree temps and his 8:40.9 on a sun-scorched track (94 degrees) at the International Prep Invite in Chicago that broke Steve Prefontaine’s national HS record.
More opportunities to compete nationally and internationally came Virgin’s way. He won the national AAU Junior 3-mile in 13:36.8, an age-17 record that still stands. Then in his final prep race, he ripped a 13:58.2 for 5000m and beat the Soviets in another dual. He was named the Track & Field News HS Athlete of the Year for 1973 and held the 2M HSR for six years.
Virgin’s ascension as a distance runner continued during his collegiate career, as a pro and for Team USA – a relatively rare accomplishment for someone who excels so prodigiously as a prep. At the University of Illinois he was a 9-time All-American and the 1975 NCAA XC champ. The following spring, he made the first of three Olympic teams in the 10,000m, finishing 2nd in the Trials at age 20.
Virgin became, in fact, arguably the world’s best all-around distance runner during a stretch from 1979-81, including when he captured back-to-back IAAF World Cross-Country titles over 12k in Paris (’80) and Madrid (’81). In ’80 he also returned to Paris that summer and ran an American record and history’s #2 10,000 meters on the track at 27:29.16. He almost certainly would have battled for the 10k gold at the Moscow Olympics had the USA not boycotted the Games.
Now a motivational speaker, commentator and personal coach, Virgin has been selected for five other Hall of Fames for his accomplishments, including the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2011.
Did You Know?
When Craig Virgin ran 8:57.4 in his state meet sophomore year, he became the first 15-year-old and 10th-grader to break 9:00 for 2M.