CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, ILLINOIS

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2019 Guest Legend

Craig Virgin

U.S. Olympian | World Champion | American Champion | NCAA Champion  |  Big Ten Champion | IHSA Champion

We’re thrilled to welcome Illinois native son Craig Virgin as our guest legend for 2019. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Craig, who starred in cross-country and track for the Fighting Illini from 1973–1977.  Craig will appear at the expo on Thursday, April 25, and Friday, April 26; give his keynote address at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, April 26, as part of our Speaker Series in the ARC Auditorium; give a brief talk at 6:00 p.m. at the Pasta Feed on Friday, April 26; and co-host the Illini Radio Group prerace radio show starting at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 27.

Craig’s talk:  Overcoming Adversity in Running and Life? Persevering through discomfort and discouragement up the middle of long races. Mental and physical tips that will help you to not give in…and not give up!

1976: Runner Craig Virgin in action Photo: © Rich Clarkson / Rich Clarkson and Assoc.
1976: Runner Craig Virgin in action
Photo: © Rich Clarkson / Rich Clarkson and Assoc.

About Craig Virgin

Illinois native son Craig Virgin will be the featured celebrity runner and guest speaker at the 2019 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon Weekend. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Virgin, who is a member of the inaugural University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame class. Virgin competed at the highest level for the Fighting Illini from 1973-1977 and then went on to an outstanding world-class running career over the next decade or so after graduation. Many of Virgin’s top high school and college races were run around the old Memorial Stadium track and field where the CCIM events now finish. It is a venue near and dear to both his heart and his home state athletic heritage.

Craig Virgin was raised on a family farm near Lebanon in southwestern Illinois. His first challenge was to overcome congenital urological disease. Reconstructive bladder and kidney surgery in kindergarten and 8th grade allowed him to finally survive with both kidneys intact and functional. He did not start competitive running until his freshman year at tiny Lebanon High School (412 students) but went on to win five IHSA individual state championships in the then single-class system before graduation. He still holds the Illinois High School State Championships records in both the 3-mile cross-country (13:50.6) and the 2-mile track (8:42.6) events. In June of 1973 Virgin broke the late Steve Prefontaine’s national high school 2-mile record with a clocking of 8:40.9. Virgin qualified for his first two U.S. National Track & Field Teams while still in high school.

At the University of Illinois, Virgin won nine Big Ten individual championships and was a nine-time NCAA All-American. He also won the individual title at the 1975 NCAA Cross-Country Championships and finished as top American in seven other NCAA Championship races.  Virgin helped develop and lead his Illinois track and cross-country teams to a top five national ranking and finish by his senior year. Virgin qualified for his first Olympic team 10,000 m. berth by finishing a close second to 1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter at the 1976 Olympic Trials with a then collegiate record of 27:59.

After college, Virgin became the first American man to qualify for three U.S. Olympic Track & Field Teams in the 10,000 m. track event, as he also made the teams in 1980 and 1984. His winning time of 27:45.6 in 1980 was also an Olympic Trials meet record that stood for 24 years. Six weeks later Craig ran the second fastest 10,000 m. time in history—27:29.2, which broke the old American record of 27:39 that he had set the year before at the U.S. Track & Field Championships. Unfortunately, Virgin was denied the opportunity to compete at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow because of the U.S.-led Olympic boycott. The winning 10,000 m. time at Moscow was 27:42.69.

Craig Virgin’s accomplishments in the sport of cross country at the high school, collegiate, national, and international levels are unmatched in U.S. distance running history. Virgin qualified for 10 U.S. World Cross-Country Teams and helped lead the men’s team to five second-place finishes and two third-place finishes. Most importantly, Virgin became the only American man to win the World Cross Country Championships, capturing the title in 1980 (Paris) and 1981 (Madrid).

He competed in four marathons, including a second-place finish in the 1981 Boston Marathon, with his personal best time of 2:10.26. He briefly held the U.S. marathon debut record of 2:14.40, which he ran in 1979. A chronic knee issue kept him from pursuing his marathon potential further. Virgin is still the fastest Illinois-born or resident marathoner in history with his Boston Marathon time.

Virgin battled some urological challenges during his career until finally having his right kidney removed in 1994 following his retirement from running in 1992 after a 23-year racing career. In 1997 Virgin experienced a near-fatal high-speed head-on car collision with a wrong-way driver. He survived but had to endure 15 surgeries and much rehab since. This effectively derailed his budding masters racing career. He survived another serious car wreck in November of 2016 and is presently rehabbing back after two resulting knee surgeries. He is hoping to jog the 2019 Christie Clinic Illinois 5K with Illinois athletic director, Josh Whitman.

Craig Virgin is Founder and President of Front Runner Inc., a sports marketing and sports promotions consulting company. He also does freelance broadcasting at running and fitness events and is a noted motivational speaker. He looks forward to coming home to Champaign-Urbana for the 2019 Christie Clinic Marathon Weekend starting and finishing on the grounds of his alma mater.

_84_Olympic_10K_Semi_Final
’84 Olympic 10K Semi Final
Craig then and now
Craig Then and Now