Wisconsin’s distance runner Olin Hacker was not even out of college when he was inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches (WCCC) Hall of Fame in 2021.
The honor was obviously well-earned and is bit of a thing in his family with a storied running history dating back close to 50 years. It includes his legendary father Tim Hacker, several uncles, his siblings Wilson, Sam and Vivian, and many cousins; Madison West, Menomonee Falls North and Menomonee Falls High Schools; the University of Wisconsin and almost too many state and national titles, All-American citations, and hall of fames to count.
And then just for good measure, Olin, a seventh-year graduate student in kinesiology taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility due to the COVID pandemic, recently added another a couple of very important sentences to his WCCC Hall of Fame resume and another entry to the long, storied family history.
That of becoming a national champion.
That event occurred on June 10 when in stirring fashion, when, in his last collegiate race, Olin used an explosive, last-second kick, something father Tim and Uncle Jeff used many times in their youth, to win the NCAA outdoor track title in the 5,000-meters on June 10.
He grasped his head in disbelief and collapsed to the track in Eugene, Oregon in pure joy. Then he composed himself as he was interviewed by well-respected ESPN announcer John Anderson. Anderson, an early 1980s graduate of Green Bay Southwest High School, established his Wisconsin prep cross country and track credentials when he opened the interview by telling Olin proudly that he remembers “being pounded to dust on occasion” in high school races by none other than Tim Hacker.
The idea of joining his Dad Tim, who won the 1985 NCAA DI men’s cross country title among many other prep and collegiate honors, in such elite company, left young Mr. Olin, wide-eyed, astounded and almost disbelieving.
“This is what I wanted, this is what I dreamed about, quite honest a stressful dream,… but I thought I could do it, but it wasn’t really didn’t know what it would feel like. it feels amazing,” he told Anderson.
“…to win this is a dream.”
The first thing he did after winning the race was find credentialed photographer and Mom Carol Chen for a massive and emotional hug. It was a joyous, elegant and beautiful moment of release. The win was also a massive moment of redemption, as in last year’s 5,000 outdoor final, his first NCAA national track championship race, he fell twice early on and finished a disappointing 19th.
“Just to win was so unbelievable; I’m still in shock but it means so much. This program has given me so much. It’s just the fairytale ending that I knew was a possibility and I knew this could be an amazing day. It’s just unreal to me,” he later told UWBadgers.com.
It marked the 30th national track title in Badger history and was a small grace note in a year marked by tragedy for the Wisconsin track program. Later in the press room, as Olin Hacker patiently and happily answered many questions before he was asked about Sarah Schulze.
Schulze, 21, was an academic star, a fierce competitor and above all a compassionate human being for the Badger women but tragically took her own life on April 13. Olin quietly noted that the awful moment has still not been fully comprehended by the many on the team who admired and loved her, and that it remains a challenging time for everyone especially for the Schulze family.
As he spoke, he looked down and fingered a bracelet on his wrist that he said honored Schulze’s memory.
His mention of Schulze’s passing helped put everything in perspective and reminded everyone out there struggling with mental illness to never be afraid to reach out for help in this increasingly small, fragile and stress-filled world.
Here is the link for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Along with compassion and awareness, one of the dominating good traits for Olin Hacker is patience, as he has been slowly building towards this championship moment since the day he stepped foot on the Wisconsin campus in the fall of 2015 after an enormously successful career at West.
He had been a four-time WIAA state track champion (1,600 and 3,200 in both 2014 and 2015) and two-time cross country titlist (2013 and 2014) and led the Regents to the state CC title in 2014. He was also second in both the Nike Cross Country Nationals and the Foot Locker National CC finals in the fall of 2014.
He was Gatorade state cross country runner of the year in 2013 and 2014 and Gatorade state track athlete of the year in 2015. As I noted, his 2021 induction into the WCCC Hall of Fame was well-earned.
But success came slowly in his first few years at Wisconsin. However, in the last few years his fortunes started trending upward. So when he learned that people like him were to be granted an extra year of eligibility in 2021-22 due to the effects of the COVID pandemic, he became one motivated individual and was heck bent on making his final year of collegiate running memorable.
Which he did.
He started in the fall 2021 CC season, by earning NCAA All-American honors after taking 33rd in the national meet. He was also second individually in the Big 10 championships.
He built on that success with a sensational final track spring of 2022, earning NCAA indoor All-American honors by claiming fourth in the 3,000. He also won both the 3,000 and the 5,000 at the Big 10 indoor meet. He also turned in a amazing personal best of 3:56.66 for the mile, the second-fastest time in school history, which was very close to Dad Tim’s all-time best of 3:55.7 recorded back in 1988.
That mile speed would come in handy come June for Olin.
To put that father and son feat in context, there have been fewer than 20 father-son duos all-time who have both turned in sub 4-minute miles. Olin had officially joined Tim in that regard with a 3:59.04 recorded in July 2021.
Come the 2022 outdoor season, Olin prepped for a run at a national title by turning in a personal best of 13:19.34 in winning the Oregon Relays 5,000. He also helped a Badger distance medley relay (1,200, 400, 800 and 1,600) set a school record (9:29.79) at the Penn Relays. He later won the Big 10 5,000-meter title.
Curiously, just prior to the NCAA nationals, he only finished fourth in the NCAA West region 5,000-meter qualifier.
But on June 10 in Eugene, that little hiccup simply didn’t matter.
Work ethic, motivation and patience helped Olin along, but he also had a mountain of great genetics pushing him along too. Championship running skill clearly ran through Dad and his uncles Mike, Jeff, Dave and Bill Hacker. It didn’t hurt that aunt Cathy (the eldest sibling in the Falls Hacker family) would just happen to marry Wisconsin and national track legend Steve Lacy. For more family details, see the excellent running biography of the Hackers put together by Waukesha Freeman writer Dave Radcliffe in 2020.
It is quite stunning when you look at young Mr. Olin, all of about 25 years old and then compare his build, his height, even his curly hair to a photo of his father from November 1985 when Tim won that NCAA individual cross country title on Dretzka Park on the northwest side of Milwaukee.
You could almost be looking at twins.
That father and son happen to run with similar styles is also of no surprise. Like all the Hackers they possessed tremendous endurance but could also turn on the jets on a moment’s notice. Uncle Jeff won his second WIAA state cross country title at North in 1977 after responding to a late ambush from Rhinelander’s Bill Fischer while Dad Tim claimed his first state CC crown in 1979 after surviving a surge by New Berlin West’s Chris Peske. On more of a lark than anything else, Tim ran a formidable 51-second open 400 at the Braveland Conference outdoor track meet in 1981 (I was there).
Curiously enough, that Dretzka Park CC course on which Tim reached the apex of his collegiate career was no more than five minutes or so from the Hacker home. He and his siblings had run successfully on a variation of that layout many times as preps when North was part of the brilliant but now defunct Braveland Confererence.
Tim, with help from fellow former Falls North teammate Joe Stintzi, led that 1985 Wisconsin team, made up largely of home-grown athletes, to its second NCAA DI championship in four years (1982’s team, with six Wisconsin-based runners on it, claimed the other).
That at that 1985 meet, Falls and Falls North WCCC Hall of Fame coach Bob Rymer was the first person to slap Tim on the back as he hit the finish line in triumph on that chilly, snow-covered day was the perfect capstone. I was there, standing many, many yards away, but Rymer’s smile could have been seen clearly from the moon at that moment.
He had coached Tim and all the first-generation Hacker brothers as well as all the equally-talented Stintzi brothers (Steve, John, Jim and Joe) to many individual and team triumphs over a remarkable 15-year span from about 1971-1986 at Falls North (just Falls at the very end).
RYMER STILL KEEPS TABS ON THINGS
Let’s flash-forward a bit from that glorious day of Tim’s triumph all those years ago to June 3, 2022.
I was wired, uptight and fighting a recalcitrant laptop in the UW-La Crosse pressroom on the first day of the WIAA state track meet, when I heard someone plop down in the chair opposite of me.
The now retired Hall of Fame coach Rymer had just driven up to do some administrative work for the meet and was happy to chat for a few minutes. I had known him since my time at Falls North in the 1970s when with no prior knowledge of the sport or running skill whatsoever, I became a cross country geek, something to which I am still proud to admit to.
Rymer has been helping out with the state track meet basically forever and was recently the subject of an excellent You Tube interview by Arrowhead WCCC Hall of Fame coach Mike Mulrooney. He takes it a little easier these days because medical issues cost him part of a leg in recent years.
Rymer gets along well on his prostheses and has a cool recumbent bike which he isn’t shy about showing off at the occasional cross country meet.
He also keeps up with things and while I had my head down muttering to myself about the miseries of forgetting the mouse for my laptop, he reminded me that it was the week of the NCAA outdoor track championships and that Olin was going to try and go out in a blaze of glory when he competed in that NCAA 5,000-meter track final on June 10.
My ears perked up and I made a mental note of making sure to watch it whenever ESPN decided to broadcast the NCAA championships in the coming week. Rymer wisely stayed out of the weather that weekend, helping out with administrative duties while my laptop cooperated just well enough for me to make my deadline.
It was a fine state meet (more on that in a later post).
A week later, on that late June 10 night when I was home and up too late as usual (my internal clock is frankly a mess these days), I found the NCAA track broadcast on ESPN and remembered Olin’s 5,000, internally thanking Rymer for his reminder. I whooped and cheered in an enthusiastic but still quiet manner during the race so as to not wake my sleeping wife as Olin added another three-plus miles layer of legend and lore to the family story.
All my appropriate cheering and inappropriate side comments from that night can be found on my phone as I recorded the race off the TV broadcast. I can never remember to keep my trap shut while I am doing this. Friends and colleagues get a big laugh out of my lack of decorum whenever they watch me do this but hey, it’s history and I needed to document it, goofy commentary and all!
Olin was caught in a time of 13:27.73, not far off that personal best of 13:19 he had recorded about a month earlier.
I mentioned that amazing mile that he also turned in earlier in the spring. Well, that speed was no fluke, as Olin finished the race with a truly spectacular 4:06 last mile including just needing 1:56 to fly through the last 800.
What a great example of a story coming full circle.
MORE FAMILY MATTERS
Because Olin’s finish was strongly reminiscent of how his father and his uncles did things in the day and now he has done everything he possibly could to live up to that deep and daunting family legacy.
How deep? Very. How daunting? Imposing would be too small a word.
Let’s just take his dad Tim’s story right off the top. He won two WIAA state cross country titles at Falls North in 1979 and 1980 and also claimed a 1,600-meter track title in 1981 before claiming that NCAA cross country title in 1985.
He could have won even more WIAA titles in that time, except he and teammate and classmate Joe Stintzi came of age during the greatest era of Wisconsin prep distance running of all time (circa 1978-1983) with the uber-talented likes of Scott Jenkins of Kenosha Bradford, John Easker of Wittenberg-Birnamwood, Dave Uhrich of Manitowoc, Keith Hanson of Stevens Point, Jim Brice of Wrightstown and Curt Anschuetz of Brookfield East all competing with the various Hackers and Stintzis at Falls North for state distance running glory.
Tim Hacker, Joe Stintzi and Jenkins were on both the 1982 and 1985 Wisconsin national title cross country teams. The 1982 squad also included Brice, Easker and that upper peninsula fly fisherman extraordinaire Randy Berndt, who grew up in Plymouth. For good measure, Hanson wound up going to Marquette and earned All-American honors himself in that 1985 race at Dretzka with a fifth place finish.
There hasn’t been that kind of statewide depth on the national distance running scene since.
In the end, Tim Hacker, Rymer and Lacy were all part of the initial induction class to the WCCC Hall of Fame in 1992 (as was the coach of that 1982 Wisconsin team the late Dan McClimon), and then not too much later Brice (1993), Jenkins and Easker (1996), Hanson (1997), Joe Stintzi (1998) and Anschuetz (2001) were also honored.
In addition, Jeff Hacker was inducted in 1995 and Jim Stintzi got the call in 1993.
It was an era to remember.
A CROSS COUNTRY GEEK IS BORN
A little personal cross country history to people who I haven’t bored with this story already.
I graduated in 1977 from Menomonee Falls North, right in middle of North and Rymer’s run of excellence. The Indians (now the Phoenix) were regulars at the top of the WIAA state meet every year except one from 1971-1985, winning state titles in 1971, 1976 (my senior year when I was sports editor of the Chieftain student newspaper) and 1982. They were runner-ups six other times.
I became aware of the program back in that 1971 Class B state title year, when my most-popular-person-at-North-High-School sister Robyn Turtenwald (who is still the most popular person in the Falls), on a lark convinced a friend that they should be managers for Rymer and the cross country team.
They had a blast and the pair even got letters for their work. That purple and white thinclad squad was also the first-ever WIAA state team champion in Falls’ history. On it was a harbinger of the future success, a skinny freshman named John Stintzi.
So because of Robyn, Rymer was vaguely aware of me when I arrived on campus at North in the fall of 1973, all geeky and unpopular. He put up with my fascination with his very successful program fueled by the Stintzis and the Hackers but also helped along by the likes of Randy Largin (lead runner on the 1971 title team), Axel Mayer (1974 Class A two-mile champ in track), Randy and Lyndon Steinhaus, Mike and Chris Ehler, Mark Linser, Kurt Jensen and many, many others.
Rymer encouraged my curiosity and I was grateful because it later helped me become a proficient (if a bit wordy) reporter. Plus family stories of brothers and sisters competing with and against each other were also of interest to me.
They still are and the Stintzi-Hacker connection in the Falls was an epic study of how success breeds success and how it doesn’t hurt to have good genes.
Frankly, the level of competition within both households had to be off the charts!
FAMILY MATTERS PART 3
Steve Stintzi got things going as established the first-ever WIAA state track two-mile record in 1970, a mark of 9:15.0 that would last for several years. Brother Jim would have a sensational senior year of 1975-76, claiming the state individual CC crown in the fall as well as the mile and two-mile track championships in the spring.
Jeff Hacker would come around a bit later and would win those WIAA state individual cross country titles in 1976 and 1977 and would also win the mile and two-mile track championships in 1978.
Tim Hacker would also lay claim to that brace of state CC titles in 1979 and 1980, as well as winning that state 1,600 track championship in the 1,600 in 1981 beating Jenkins (one of the greatest milers in Wisconsin prep history) in a sprint to the finish that looked awfully similar to son Olin’s recent NCAA track triumph.
And the last of the brothers in the two families, Bill Hacker, would win a state individual CC title in 1984 as well as a state 3,200 crown in track in 1985. He was a key member of North’s last state title team in 1981 as a freshman.
The other brothers were not quite on that elite level but did have their moments.
Mike Hacker was in my class of 1977 and we even shared a lab table during earth science class our junior year. Although he was not state championship talent like his brothers, he possessed state title will as well as a great sense of timing. That was demonstrated in the fall of 1976 at the state cross country meet, as he turned in one of the most memorable races in Falls cross country history. There, on the Wausau American Legion Golf Course layout, he passed about 30 runners in the last mile to finish 14th overall to help secure North’s second state team championship by just three points over Oak Creek.
Dave Hacker was also a talented performer who was not far off Jeff and Tim in terms of ability though his best efforts were in the team-driven cross country format.
When the Hackers and Stintzis blended together North was nearly unstoppable. Future Wisconsin great and long-time collegiate coach Jim Stintzi had won that individual state CC title in 1975, as a top-ranked and unbeaten North team fell to Racine Case at state. Jeff Hacker was the second runner on that team. After leading the 1976 North team to that second state championship, Jeff would then go on to claim a second straight individual title in 1977 as a youthful North squad took second to La Crosse Central at state.
On that jerry-rigged 1977 team, then freshmen Tim Hacker and Joe Stintzi showed no fear at the state meet giving everyone a preview of what was to come with strong finishes. That promise came to fruition in 1978 as the pair finishing third and second, respectively behind Point’s Pete Skorseth.
But the results for the teams led by Tim and Dave Hacker and Joe Stintzi was a mix of success and frustration, as North turned in three maddening state runner-up team finishes in as many years (1978-80). None more frustrating than in 1979 when Tim won his first state individual crown in that furious and memorable sprint to the finish line with Chris Peske of New Berlin West.
North would have three finishers in the top five that year with Joe Stintzi taking third and Dave Hacker claiming fourth. Their fourth runner would also turn in a spectacular personal best and the fifth runner a solid race, but North would come up just a bit short of a balanced Monroe squad that year.
THE RISE OF POINT
Then with Dave Hacker graduated, the 1980 North team, paced by Tim and Joe had another excellent season but it was caught up in the opening act of the oldest and now most dominant dynasty in Wisconsin prep cross country history, that of WCCC Hall of Fame coach Donn Behnke‘s Stevens Point. North turned in a superior effort, one that would have won many state meets, but it was not enough to stop the Panthers as they won the first of 10 and counting WIAA state cross country titles with a simply dominant performance.
Point’s boys and girls’ track and cross country programs were ramping up at that moment. The fact that “best in state ever” type talents such as Suzy Favor Hamilton, Chris Solinsky and Roisin Willis hadn’t even arrived on the scene yet makes Point’s story even more mythic. To be perfectly blunt, Solinsky is still the best male distance runner the state of Wisconsin has ever produced even with those unfortunate injuries blunting his overall impact (he is still the first American-born male to go under 27 minutes in the 10,000-meters track event).
And alongside those elite performers came many, many other excellent runners who populated the state CC top 15 ranks year in and year out. They led Point to those 10 state titles and an equally amazing nine runner-up finishes (including three one-point losses). All told, the Panthers have 48 total WIAA state CC meet appearances in their history, an absurd 44 since 1977. Their only absences in that time were in 2004 and 2005. I would dare say that Behnke’s program is the most dominant and consistent in state history regardless of any sport you pick.
Think of Nicolet’s tennis programs from the 1960s through the 1990s or the Madison Memorial and West girls swim teams from the 1970s through the 1990s.
Point boys cross country is on that level.
Seriously, there has to be something in the water up there!
THE FALLS RUN CONCLUDES
Meanwhile, as Joe Stintzi and Tim Hacker were going on to future glory at Wisconsin in the early 1980s, Rymer and Falls North still had a few tricks up their sleeves. They failed to make state for the first time in over a decade in 1981, but came back with a vengeance in 1982, as a team that had a good mix of youth and experience, including another talented freshman named Bill Hacker would edge Point by just a single point for North’s third and final WIAA state team championship.
North would finish a strong second in 1983 to another Point powerhouse, and the following year with the Stintzi-Hacker pipeline nearing its end Bill Hacker would win one last state individual title for a now combined Falls High School that would take eighth in the team standings.
The run of state meet berths finally came to an end in 1985, when a Falls team, sans any Stintzis or Hackers, finished 16th in a snow-bound state meet.
It would be 1994 before Rymer and a Falls boys’ team would make it back to state and the last time Falls made it back since was in 2007. Rymer would pull the plug on coaching in the early 2000s after three WIAA state titles, six state runner-up finishes, 17 conference titles, 19 state team appearances and six individual state champions in a 33-year career.
He had nothing left to prove but has continued to be a positive force on Wisconsin distance running.
No matter how many legs he has!
THE SECOND GENERATION
As noted, several of those elite runners of that mid-70s to mid-80s period stayed in Wisconsin and that led to second-generational success not only in Madison but also in McFarland as a result of that Cathy Hacker-Steve Lacy union. Lacy, as if anyone forgot, is a deity among Wisconsin distance runners (likely second only to Solinsky in pure ability). He was the first Wisconsin prep to run under nine minutes in the two-mile back in 1974 (adjusted for the modern 3,200-meter distance his 8:53.5 clocking it is still the fourth fastest Wisconsin prep time recorded for that distance).
And for good measure, while Solinsky is arguably the best 5,000 and 10,000-meter runner in Wisconsin history, Lacy is arguably the greatest middle distance runner the state has ever produced, with world-class bests of 3:34 flat for the 1,500 and 3:55 for the mile. He also qualified for the 1984 Olympics in the 5,000.
He and Cathy Hacker’s sons were no slouches either as they were the first Hacker related second-generation success stories. Tim Lacy won a state D2 track 1,600 crown in 2002 running for his father’s alma mater of McFarland, while a few years later younger brother Andrew Lacy won state D2 track titles in the 3,200 in 2005 and 2006. He also claimed D2 state cross country titles in 2004 and 2005.
Meanwhile, Tim Hacker’s older sons Wilson and Sam had solid prep careers at Madison West and on the collegiate level (little sister Vivian is currently on the Wisconsin track and CC teams) but it was Olin who finally channeled all the family energy into a radiant explosion of second-generation success.
A little context on how enduring the excellence of these athletes is. In 1980, with his second title for Falls North, Dad Tim set a a state 5,000-meter cross country record of 15:15 which stubbornly stayed in place for 21 years until it was broken by the brilliant Solinsky who ran a 15:07 in 2001. Then for good measure, Solinsky crushed that mark a year later with a still-standing 14:54 romp on the same Ridges Golf Course layout in Wisconsin Rapids.
Interestingly enough, the only person to get close to that dazzling Solinsky mark was none other than Olin Hacker in 2014. That day, he turned in only the second sub-15 minute 5,000-meter effort in state CC history when he claimed his second WIAA state individual title in 14:59.1, leading the West Regents to the state team title.
AN ENDURING LEGACY
In short, Olin Hacker has laid down markers that will likely be as enduring as those of his relatives.
The all-time state CC meet top 50 is littered with Falls Hacker-Stintzi times. Olin’s fast 14:59.1 sits second, well ahead of dad Tim’s 15:15, but Tim’s effort is still good for fifth on the all-time Wisconsin list some 42-years after the fact (one of three times he is listed). Meanwhile Jeff Hacker’s 15:18, set with his second state title in 1977, is still sixth (he has two mentions) and Jim Stintzi’s 15:19 is eighth. Joe Stintzi is mentioned twice and Dave Hacker once.
In short, Olin Hacker had a huge legacy to live up to and he wears all those very big shoes he stepped into proudly and well.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR OLIN?
And if this is the swan song for his career (and I doubt that it is, this recent success should only whet his appetite for a potential run on the international circuit like Dad did so well many years ago), he should still come out all right as far as life opportunities go.
Because brains also run in the Hacker family as well as wheels.
Tim Hacker right now is actually Dr. Tim Hacker, a renown scientist and researcher. He is Director of the Cardiovascular Physiology Core Facility at the University of Wisconsin with a focus on organ system/disease focus on the cardiovascular system and an aligned research focus on animal models of disease.
Olin Hacker, as noted, is a graduate student in kinesiology, which is decidedly not an easy academic track to maintain for a busy athlete.
He graduated West high school with a 4.0 grade point average and was a WIAA Scholar Athlete. His list of academic honors at UW is actually longer than a fair-sized cross country layout and includes being a two-time first-team CoSIDA Academic Track All-American, a three-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in cross country, a six-time Academic All-Big Ten in cross country, a five-time Academic All-Big Ten in track and a four-time USTFCAA All-Academic in cross country.
So, in short, Olin Hacker has decisions to make in his life and his intellect and talent should multiply his options by no small degree. Whatever he is likely to do, he will likely do it spectacularly well.
He can think about all that when he is out on a training run.
Maybe with his Dad alongside him.