A record five Furman athletes were in the field when the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships began June 5 in Austin, Texas, marking just the latest example of Robert Gary’s penchant for taking the university’s track and cross-country programs places they’d never been before he arrived seven years ago. Now, thanks in no small part to that success, Gary is in some uncharted territory of his own.
Gary has been named the Team USA men’s head coach for the upcoming 2019 IAAF World Championship, which will be held Sept. 27-Oct. 6 in Doha, Qatar. The selection represents the pinnacle of coaching achievement, and it means just as much to Gary as representing the United States in the Olympics and World Championships as an athlete.
“It’s a huge deal in our area,” Gary said. “I was really honored to be the head coach. This is my first head-coaching assignment at a world championship, so I was really excited.”
Gary was a six-time All-America runner at Ohio State University and competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in both the 1996 and 2004 Olympics as well as the 1999 and 2003 World Championships. He also won a national cross-country championship in 2003 and competed in the 1998 and 2004 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
He has held a variety of coaching positions preparing Team USA athletes for international competition while also leading college programs at Ohio State and Furman.
“At least for the last 10 years I’ve been really involved in U.S. Track and Field,” Gary said. “The only two things missing on my resume are to be a head coach at a world championship team or on the staff for the Olympic team … I’ll get to be around all these great distance runners, but I’m just as excited to see how these people prepare mentally or physically or things they do with their diet or any new kind of training modality.”
Gary says that while the Olympics capture the public’s attention like no other meet, in the track and field world, the World Championships is just as prestigious and important.
“Olympics is 1, and I would say that World Championships is 1A,” he said. “A lot of people think track is a pretty non-team sport. It’s just individuals running around. Sometimes it can feel that way, but some of my favorite experiences are when the men’s and women’s programs work closely together and we really look at the team competition and try to take on the rest of the world.”
Gary is a 12-time Southern Conference Coach of the year. His Furman men’s and women’s cross-country teams have become a juggernaut in the league with six consecutive championships each. Allie Buchalski’s dramatic second-place finish in the women’s 5,000-meter run in 2018, the best in school history in any event, highlights increasingly impressive performances by Gary’s runners.
Ryan Adams ’20 (1,500-meter run), Aaron Templeton ’19 (10,000-meter run) and Frank Lara ’19 (10000) qualified for NCAA Championships on the men’s side, while Gabbi Jennings ’20 and Krissy Gear ’21 represented the women in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“What we’ve been able to establish here at Furman is pretty exciting,” Gary said.
Visit FurmanPaladins.com for more information about the track and field and cross-country programs.