CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois Hall of Fame Track & Field and Cross Country coach Gary Wieneke died early Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 83.

Wieneke’s last public appearance was during the dedication of the new Illinois track that bares his name. The 36-year coach put the Illini program in the national spotlight, winning 13 Big Ten championships and four NCAA team titles.

“He demanded a lot out of you, but it wasn’t because he was yelling at you or anything like that,” says former Illini Greg Dykstra, who also ran under Wieneke while he was a high school coach. “It was because you respected him so much you didn’t want to disappoint him.”

“I’m glad so many of his former athletes we’re able to come back or were able to keep in touch with him,” says Cully Welter, who ran for Wieneke from 1988-1991. “That’s a testament of who he was as a coach and a person.”

Wieneke coached the Illinois Cross Country team from 1967 to 2002, and the Track & Field team from 1974 to 2003. He was inducted into the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.

“I would give anything to hear one more pep talk, one more pre-meet speech, see one more workout,” says Joe Alexander, who ran for Wieneke from 1993-1997. “You look back and those are really some of the golden times of your life.”