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Norm Ogilvie .jpg

Norm Ogilvie, photo courtesy of Duke University

In the fall of 1990, a young, talented, and energetic coach named Norm Ogilvie undertook responsibility as an assistant track & field coach at Duke University.  Among his other duties, he handled all recruiting for the program.  A monumental challenge stood before him.  “In 1991, Duke was pretty poor,” explains Ogilvie after carefully choosing his words to describe his rugged inaugural year at the helm.   “We finished last in the ACC indoor meet with zero points.  We finished last in the ACC outdoor meet with zero points.  And in the preceding fall of 1990 we set an all-time conference record for the most points scored in cross country.”  Ogilvie – who has served as Duke’s Director of Track & Field since 2000 – doesn’t sugar coat it.  “You could make the argument that we were one of the worst ACC teams ever,” he adds soberly.  25 years since his arrival in Durham, Ogilvie has resurrected the Blue Devil program, surrounded himself with a squadron of skilled and caring assistants [which includes his wife Jan], and re-branded Duke track & field as a program which prepares the increasingly more talented student-athletes who come to Duke University to achieve at the highest level of their track & field potential while pursuing a first-class education at one of the nation’s most respected institutions of higher learning.

Ogilvie's zest for coaching is immediately evident. "It is rewarding and there is nothing else I would want to do," he reveals. "I started out in television and thought that was a glamorous and rewarding career. But when I got the chance to make that transition into coaching, I've never looked back. And clearly, this was the career that was meant for me."

It's that enthusiasm combined with knowledge of the sport and sincere care for his athletes that has allowed Ogilvie to be the architect of the now highly-respected Duke track & field / cross country program which has been built over the past 25 years. "I think you have to show the kids that you care a lot. That's the bottom line: that you care about all of them," he offers. "Scholarship-wise, we are fully funded on the women's side, but not on the men's side. But no one on the team knows any difference. We don't advertise who's on scholarship and who isn't. We treat everybody the same. We all have the same goal of being the best possible program we can be."

Duke's Director of Track & Field makes it clear that building a successful program takes patience - and time. "When I first got here in '91, there were whole events that were missing on our roster. And now we field people in every single event. We like that." But after filling the holes, developing balance was Ogilvie's next targeted achievement. "In the last decade or so, we have had the goal to be a well-balanced track & field program. Early on, our original successes were pretty much restricted to cross country and the distance events. The shift to be a balanced track & field program has been working out pretty well for us. I love having over 100 people on our combined roster. And I think we have 100 happy campers, because everybody feels like they can contribute. And we're building. In the ACC track & field championships we finished in the top 5 on both sides. It's a good feeling. I really love being a balanced program so we can come up to a meet like the Armory Track Invitational or a conference meet that measures the full, balanced team. I find it tremendously satisfying that Duke can do that."

Ogilvie is quick to give a nod to his talented assistant coaches who add helpful continuity to the program. "I am blessed with a great supporting staff. That's really made the difference - the ability to hire some great assistants," states Ogilvie in praising the staff that has cultivated such marquee talents as Shannon Rowbury and Curtis Beach. "We have a coaching staff that is fairly stable. Jan and I have been at the program over 20 years. And most of our other assistants have been here quite a long time." And with a rhetorical laugh he adds, "And who wouldn't want to work at Duke?"

"We allow our athletes the flexibility to pursue the majors they want to pursue at a great university. We don't limit their choices," notes Ogilvie about his program's recognition of the ambitious academic pursuits of his athletes. "To do that, it sometimes disrupts practice, but we feel like as coaches we can work with them at any hour of the day. We really try to work with our athletes. And they see that - that we care, that we're willing to put in the extra time. And that all feeds off itself."

Over the never-ending career-long learning process, Ogilvie not only has gained an appreciation for what works, but also has learned from mistakes along the way. "I always say in 25 years, you can make a lot of mistakes. And I have. But if you are conscientious and have a good attitude, you can learn from those mistakes and then not make them again. Hey, they're always more to make," he adds with a chuckle. "You definitely learn over time. I am certainly more mature than I was 25 years ago and I see the big picture."

Ogilvie's own family experience has also played a role. "I think another thing that has really helped me is being a parent and really understanding that perspective - especially this particular fall as my daughter is looking for a place to go to college where she can compete," notes Ogilvie in referring to his older daughter Jade - a high school senior who is a 4-time state cross country finalist. "Now I am going to other campuses and hearing other coaches' pitches. And it is very illuminating and educating to me from that aspect to see what other schools are talking about, how they are selling themselves, and also the tough choices that the athletes have to make sometimes. As in anything in life, if you can have some empathy for who you are working with, that helps you out in the long run and helps you make better choices."

"Over the years, recruiting is a crazy thing. You never know what's going to happen," offers Ogilvie about the topsy-turvy process of pitching the Blue Devil program to 18 year old athletes and their families. "You can think you have a kid all lined up, and then he or she will go someplace you just weren't expecting. And other times it works beautifully. One thing is for sure: you can't predict it. So just have to work really hard at it. The one truism over all the 25 years is that if you just keep working at it, keep applying yourself, eventually you'll get better," notes Ogilvie in sounding a theme that resonates throughout his entire coaching philosophy. "It doesn't happen overnight. But if you're consistently good at it, it should get easier over time. And I think that is certainly the case. We're still working extra hard, but we're working extra hard with much better kids. We're recruiting against the top track & field programs in the country." Reflecting back on his 25 years at the helm in Durham, Ogilvie adds, "It has evolved over time. I've definitely learned a bunch in my 25 years. And I'm not done learning either. There are going to be more lessons ahead that I just can't foresee yet. But they will be there."

While Ogilvie piloted the combined Duke program to one of its most successful campaigns ever last year with 10 first team All-American selections, 16 NCAA Championship qualifiers, and 4 ACC titlists in track and field, he is still challenging himself, his coaching staff, and his athletes. "I think over time we can continue to build our women's track and field program. There's an old saying in sports, "lose big; lose close; win close; win big.' And I think we are in that stage now where we are winning close," explains Ogilvie as he outlines the women's recent successes. "But we can never take it for granted and some days we will come up short. But I think over time - just like we've come up the other rungs of the ladder - we can still do that [take the program to an even higher level]. And with a fully funded program, a beautiful new track stadium, good weather, and even though we have difficult academic standards, I think we can be very good. Winning an ACC title in track & field is not out of the question. We may actually be a better program on the national level. We've already had several top 20 national finishes."

Duke's leader is no less enthused about the men's accomplishments and their future. "With the men, I think we are doing fantastic right now with the resources that we have," notes Ogilvie. We are always striving for more. One of our goals is to always be a powerhouse in the middle distance relays. Last year we had a men's distance medley that was All-American; we had a sub-4:00 miler; we had a 13:47 5K guy. So those are the types things you build those distance relays around. And we've had a super excellent program in the multi events. We got a big boost a few years ago with Curtis Beach. Just a year ago we went 1-2-3 in the ACC decathlon. So that's going to be a real brand for us. We've had multiple 7 foot high jumpers. The pole vault has been strong. And we had an All American last year in the javelin. So the men will continue to pick their spots and be very good in the things we can go after. But it is going to be a little more challenging for them to be that balanced overall program without having the full funding and scholarships."

Norm Ogilvie - who has mentored 62 ACC individual champions and 81 All-America selections during his quarter-century of track & field leadership at Duke - is reflective as he looks back on his Blue Devil career. "Over time, we built the program up," states the Duke Director of Track & Field. "We're not winning right now, but in track and field we're usually in the upper third on both sides. In cross country, we're somewhere in the middle. But in the ACC 'somewhere in the middle' is usually good enough to get to the NCAA's. We're hoping the men will qualify [later this month] for the NCAA's for [in cross country] the 4th time in 7 years. I think people understand we try to do things the right way, we're not taking shortcuts, we're working hard, and we're doing it with great student athletes." Looking back on the meager program he inherited and the progress he has cultivated over his 25 year tenure, the Duke track & field leader pauses for a moment, and then declares, "I hope people appreciate what we've accomplished." Anyone paying attention surely would.

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