Wednesday, July 24, 2024


That is Elliott Denman’s salute to Fred Samara, the very long time coach of Princeton. Fred Samara is among the most interesting coaches in our sport. I met Fred throughout the early Nineties when Fred and Harry Marra had been launching the VISA Decathlon program. A 1976 Olympian, 


Query: Over time, which faculty city in America stands atop the rostrum as dwelling to residents and visitors coursing critical observe and subject by means of their veins?

Eugene, Oregon? Ann Arbor, Michigan? Des Moines, Iowa?

Gainesville, Florida? Austin, Texas?

Let me inform you they’re all Johnnies-Come-These days on the collegiate observe and subject map.

Let me remind you that they’ve been doing this running-jumping-throwing factor in Princeton, New Jersey, for a century and a half. And so they’re nonetheless very a lot at it.

Princeton College has been fielding observe and subject groups since 1873.

The Intercollegiate Affiliation of Novice Athletes of America – you recognize, the IC4A – staged its first meet in 1876. The primary staff champion: the Princeton College Tigers. The primary Tiger particular person winner: J.W. Mann, champion in each the shot put…and baseball throw.

Staff USA on the first Trendy Olympic Video games – Athens 1896 – was nearly all males of Princeton (oh, with a handful of Harvard guys) and arranged by Princeton historical past professor William Milligan Sloane. The Video games’ first double winner: Princeton’s Robert Garrett, within the shot put and discus. USA’s first Worldwide Olympic Committee member? William Milligan Sloane.

The second Olympic 100-meter champion: Princeton’s Frank Jarvis in 1900.

America’s first nice outside meet spectaculars: These sensational Princeton Invitationals of the Thirties (that includes such greats as Glenn Cunningham, Jack Lovelock, Sydney Wooderson, and Princeton’s personal Invoice Bonthron) racing earlier than huge crowds at Palmer Stadium.

Jesse Owens?? His path to quadruple golden glory on the 1936 Berlin Olympic Video games was constructed on his epic performances on the ’36 Nationwide AAU’s at Palmer Stadium.

Over time, Palmer Stadium had been the scene of 9 world-record performances.

All this whereas Princeton’s personal varsity groups (coached by suchnotables as Keane Fitzpatrick, Matt Geis, Pete Morgan and Larry Ellis) saved their Tigers within the sport’s highest echelons,for years and years extra.

All this, too, is by means of saying that the final 46 years of Princeton males’s observe – beneath the skilled steering of Fred Samara, successor to Ellis, his personal mentor – have been among the many most interesting of all.

With the Heptagonal Championships – now that includes the eight Ivy League colleges, and previously, Military and Navy – the staff’s main focus, the Tigers have been by far the general “Heps” dominators in Samara’s tenure.

The “Heps” field rating by means of The Samara Period at Princeton: 10 triple crowns (cross nation, indoor observe, outside observe),a complete of 51 staff titles, together with a whopping 502 particular person titlists.

Samara, inducted into the Nationwide Collegiate Coaches Corridor of Fame in 2017, has guided his Tigers to 9 NCAA individual-event titles, and 6 of his high pupils made it to the Olympic Video games (as he did, too, within the 1976 Montreal decathlon.)

Among the many most notable: Athens 2004 Olympian and multi-national excessive soar champion Tora Harris, two-time Olympic steeplechaser Donn Cabral, and celebrated pole vaulter Sondre Guttormsen, whose credentials embody three NCAA golds, one European title (for his homeland of Norway) and 2021 Tokyo Olympian.
However Samara’s final two Tiger groups might have been the perfect of all of them. Sondre Guttormsen, together with brother Simen, had been very important substances within the success of his 2022 Tigers: fifth at NCAA indoors, seventh at NCAA open air…

Then once more, nothing is eternally, a truth of life Samara, 73, admitted again in June in saying his retirement. There got here a time, and this was it.

However all his Princeton colleagues, athletes, and mates weren’t about to let him merely disappear from the Tiger scene with no huge, buoyant goodbye salute, both.

And so they did it in fashion, too, final Saturday evening (Oct. 21, 2023) on the Westin Princeton Forrestal Village resort advanced.

Over 300 crammed the ballroom – festooned with “Farewell to Fred” signage and offered with “Fred’s Followers” pins – to say their formal goodbyes.

At tradition-laden Princeton, this was actually a historic occasion. No Princeton individual had ever been accorded such a sendoff. Not beloved basketball coach Pete Carril. Not even Albert Einstein.

An array of Tiger alumni, colleagues, mates, and admirers took turns on the dais.

Ivy rivalries usually criss-cross.

Samara, a two-time nationwide decathlon champion and 1976 Olympian, is a Penn graduate; Penn coach Steve Dolan is a former Princeton mentor.

Stated Penn grad Frank Harrison (a two-time Olympic Trials decathlete, himself. who adopted in Samara’s sneakers as a top-flight Penn all-arounder) put it, “Fred has had an enormous function in so many lives.”

Augie Wolf was a giant uncooked expertise when recruited out of Minnesota by Samara.

Stated Wolf: “He took an opportunity on me and turned my life round. I went from 47 ft within the shot put to 67 ft in 4 years and the 1984 Olympics. That’s Fred.”

Stated former Tiger lengthy jumper Jay Diamond: “It took quite a lot of work by all of us. Nothing occurred accidentally.”

He’ll always remember one Hep meet.

“Cornell gained it and was celebrating everywhere.”

“That’s the way in which a champion wins, Fred instructed us. “It’s too dangerous they gained’t get to have a good time once more.”

Certain sufficient, Samara’s athletes dug down, gained the subsequent version of the Heps, and have been dominating this “Historic Eight” meet for many years.

Diamond’s imaginative and prescient: A statue of Samara to be put in on the world-class William Weaver Stadium facility (erected in 1998 as successor to the historic Palmer Stadium.)

“He belongs there,” together with such different Princeton greats as basketball’s Invoice Bradley, soccer’s Dick Kazmaier, and hockey’s Hobie Baker.
“He made us all higher males.”
Diamond’s movement handed by a unanimous (alas, unofficial) vote.

“We had the perfect coach in historical past,” mentioned shot put star C.J. Licata. “Everyone knows you (Samara) had been the perfect. All of us wished to go the place you had been.”

No speaker was extra passionate than Brad Urschel.

He’d been voted the perfect athlete at his Texas highschool in 50 years. He got here to Princeton. He, too, blossomed out as a world-class decathlete. He’d been an Olympic Trials candidate.

However the life he’d identified got here to a shattering shut one evening on a West Texas highway. Driving together with his Dad – to a observe meet – their automobile overturned, and Urschel was thrown from the again seat.

Regardless of the crippling accidents after years of rehabilitation, regardless of a lifetime of obstacles and challenges, there he was at this evening, readily available to honor Samara.

“We are able to all study from these occasions,” Urschel mentioned softly.

Urschel has usually mentioned he now not experiences “worry, heaven or hell, states of being.”

“We are able to all study.”

And the total home on “Fred’s evening” rose to salute probably the most brave of all these Tigers.

Like so many others right here, John Mack (class of 2000) had been a Samara pupil – and a 10-time Heps titlist at 200, 400, and relays.

Now, the previous staff captain is the college’s director of athletics, a submit he’s usually mentioned.

“is actually a dream come true, 25 years within the making.”

So, it was Mack’s job to verify Jason Vigilante as Samara’s successor.

“Vig” has been a superb distance coach with Samara

(after earlier successes in Texas and Virginia) and can now take the total reins of the lads’s observe and subject program.

“How do you comply with within the footsteps of a coach as nice as Fred Samara?” he requested.

“He actually loves serving to individuals. He loves everybody right here, It’s a love he shares with all of us.”

After which it was Samara’s flip to say goodbyes.

Over time, he’s coached USA groups on the Olympic Video games (Barcelona 1992), together with Worlds, Pan Ams, Goodwill Video games, and extra. When USA’s nationwide standing within the decathlon appeared to sag, he discovered the vital Visa sponsorship and rallied the USA deca-team again on observe to the world No. 1 rating.

He’d traveled the world, however his coronary heart was all the time in Princeton, N.J.

He credited his Princeton predecessor – “I owe every part to Larry (Ellis),” he mentioned.

He credited his spouse (Lorraine) and son Ben (the just-like-Dad excellent coach at Princeton Excessive College.) He lauded the multi-member-strong alumni help group, Pals of Princeton Monitor. He saluted the coaches and staffers he’s labored with (from predecessor Ellis to Peter Farrell to Marc Anderson and present colleagues Vigilante and Robert Abdullah, and lots of extra.)

“I’ve a thousand tales,” he mentioned.

However he couldn’t inform all of them. The night was rolling alongside.

Baggage – for future travels maybe, and different tokens of appreciation – had been offered,

Then once more, Samara, a resident of close by Cranbury, might by no means stray too removed from this storied campus. The doorways will all the time be open. And, simply in case, Vigilante promised there’d all the time be a desk for him of their Jadwin Gymnasium workplace quarters.

To study extra about Fred Samara, please take a look at this text:

Fred Samara on the Ivy Approach: Revered Princeton Coach and Olympian Embraces Balanced Strategy

  • Elliott Denman

    One of many most interesting and most prolific writers in our sport, Elliott Denman has written about our sport since 1956, when he represented the US in 1956 Olympic Video games on the 50k race stroll, the longest occasion on the Olympic schedule. A detailed observer of the game, Elliott writes about all of our sport, combining the abilities of a properly honed author with the fashion of ee Cummings. We’re fairly lucky to have Elliott Denman as a good friend and advisor.

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