Paul Olsen enters 50th year of cross country coaching

After earning a second and first place at two invitationals, head men’s cross country coach Paul Olsen reflects on his 50th season as head coach.
“I first came here and thought I’ll be here for a year and I’ll do something else,” said Olsen. “Well that was fifty years ago.”
Before he came to Augustana, Olsen was coaching at Manitowoc High School and was offered a chance to coach at the University of Wisconsin and Oregon State University.
“I was one year out of college and I was coaching in Wisconsin as a football coach, and a guy who was an interim head coach at Luther got the basketball job in the turnover at Augie,” Olsen said. “I was at Manitowoc and he called and said ‘hey we have an opening here and you can be head track coach.’”
Olsen had to decide if he should move from one of the most progressive English departments in Wisconsin where he could end up getting the coaching job for football within two years.
He ultimately decided he was up for the challenge of coaching track and cross country.
“It was a different kind of human endeavor than football was, and I just loved it from day one,”  Olsen said.
He’s stayed with Augustana since “day one” because of the great students and colleagues he works with, the passion, the intensity, the determination to celebrate living, affirm life, and to succeed at the best level possible for each individual.
Senior and cross country captain Keith Sands enjoys Olsen’s philosophy.
“He does not look at you as an athlete. He looks at you as a human being,” Sands said.
Olsen mentioned that he coaches more from literature than physiology or bio-mechanics. He also wants his team to understand history and tradition, because “they are part of that tremendous tradition.”
He was inspired as a young boy with short stories and poetry. They helped him discover “the depth of understanding of human behavior and the complexity of each person’s journey.”
“Ols’ is unique in the way that he emphasizes how important every single person on the team is because we all inspire each other to bring out the best in each other and our team,” Sands said.
Sands said that Augustana’s cross country program has been a positive influence in his life, one that has given him friendships and helped him learn more of himself.
“Ols’ teaches us much more than how to run fast. He teaches us how to make the most of life and that what we do off the course is more important than what we do on the course,” Sands said.