|Vic Dyrgall - 2012 HOF|
In a long line of great distance runners at Idaho, Victor “Vic” Dyrgall stands above all.
During Idaho’s cross country reign of the Pacific Coast Conference – the precursor to the Pacific-12 Conference, Dyrgall was the team’s leader and top man from the very beginning.
In 1939, Dyrgall joined an Idaho men’s cross country program that already was among the best in the West. The Vandals had won back-to-back PCC titles in 1937 and 1938 under head coach Mike Ryan and Dyrgall made the cross-country trip from Long Island, N.Y., to Moscow to become a part of that tradition.
As a true freshman, Dyrgall led the Idaho men to a 1939 PCC team title and then made history by becoming the first – and still, the only, Vandal man to qualify for the NCAA Championships. He finished seventh and took All-America honors at the meet, but that was only the beginning.
Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps, who enters his 17th year at Idaho this year, is well aware of the tradition and the level of achievements that Dyrgall and his teammates accomplished at Idaho.
Phipps said the late Gerry Hagedorn, a 2010 Vandal Athletics Hall of Fame inductee who was a track and field teammate of Dyrgall’s, was a strong proponent of Dyrgall’s induction and frequently mentioned him and his stories to the Idaho coaching staff.
“Gerry used to talk to me all the time about Vic Dyrgall, and then I sat down and looked at his accomplishments, and it’s just incredible,” Phipps said. “You see all of his achievements and everything he has accomplished, and nobody who has been here after him has come close to matching that. For him to also be a World War II veteran and to come back after that and continue to compete at such a high level is really incredible.”
The Vandal men owned the PCC for the next two seasons with Dyrgall at the front. The 1941 cross country team’s championship performance may be one of the most impressive ever by a group of Vandals.
Led by Dyrgall, then a junior, Idaho’s undefeated team went into the 1941 PCC Championships at Portland, Ore. Idaho put three runners, Dyrgall, Bob White and Bob Dwyer, in the top five overall and cruised to a team title. In the lowest-score format, Idaho scored 19, while second-place Stanford came in at a distant 70 team points.
For most teams, that performance represents quite an impressive day. For Dyrgall and Idaho, it represented a great half-day. The group took a few hours to rest, then warmed back up and ran the 4.3-mile course again for the AAU Championships – and Dyrgall led the Vandal men to another team victory.
“I don’t think that if logistics allowed that to happen now, it would ever happen again,” Phipps said. “To dominate a major conference championship by that much and still have enough to come back and win another team championship at a high level is just amazing and I really don’t think you’ll ever see a team accomplish something like that again.”
While he was poised to break out in his senior season, Dyrgall had another commitment late in 1942. He joined the Army Air Corps and served for three years in World War II. When he returned from his service, he also returned to Idaho and Vandal athletics.
Dyrgall finished his career the same way he started it – as a winner. He led Idaho’s men to a 1946 PCC team title in cross country and in doing so, became part of an exclusive group of collegiate athletes to win a conference title in every year of his career.
While his time at Idaho is truly worthy of note, it’s not even the whole story of Vic Dyrgall’s athletic career. The same year he returned to Idaho from the war in 1946, Dyrgall entered into the AAU national championship in the 15,000-meter road race and claimed his first of 11 national distance crowns. That same year, he also took second in the 10,000m at the USA Track and Field Championships.
Drygall’s true breakout year in professional running came in 1948, when he grabbed the unquestioned title as America’s top long-distance runner. He won the national crown in the 15k race for a second time, then added titles at 20k, 25k and then 30k.
Dyrgall’s top moment came in 1952, when he won the Yonkers Marathon, which was run as the AAU national championship that year, and then took a runner-up finish in the Boston Marathon. As the nation’s top-ranked marathoner, Dyrgall earned one of America’s three bids to the Helsinki Olympic Games in the event.
He finished 13th in the Olympic marathon with a time of 2:32:52, which was at the time the highest finish by an American in the event since 1932. His time was an American Olympic marathon record that stood until 1960.
“He was essentially the best long distance runner in the United States during that time period,” Phipps said. “To represent the United States in the Olympic marathon, to win national marathon titles and to win all those road race titles – you’ve just got to believe he’s the best distance guy in the country in that four- or five-year span of time.”
Dyrgall’s standard as the only Vandal man to qualify for the NCAA Championships still is untouched, more than 70 years after the fact, despite the dozens of All-Americans and NCAA finalists who have followed. His team success and his post-collegiate accolades are also unmatched by any Vandal.
Dyrgall retired from racing in 1952 following his Olympic appearance and returned to his day job as an accountant in Schenectady, N.Y. He passed away on Oct. 4, 2006, at the age of 88 at Fort