Whelan runs and coaches his way into UK Athletics Hall of Fame

By Lindsay Travis

Six former UK athletes and coaches will be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame this Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28. Among them is Press Whelan, who ran and coached his way into UK athletics history.

Whelan will be recognized for his accomplishments as both an athlete and a coach, as he ran UK track and cross country from 1957-61, and returned as head coach from 1967-73.

Between his years in Lexington, Whelan spent time in Turkey coaching athletes for the 1968 Olympics.

“The time at UK just went in a breeze,” Whelan said.

As a freshman, Whelan set the SEC cross country championship record and won the SEC track title twice in the two-mile run, according to UK Athletics.

Whelan won a cross country SEC Championship his sophomore year and another as a junior, when he was named an All-American.

“Another significant time for me was when I teamed up with Jack Martin and we were training under an Olympic coach,” Whelan said. “We made the fastest time in the United States that year in the two-man 10-mile relay.”

The pair ran the event in 45 minutes, 15 seconds. At that time, it was the second-fastest time in the world, according to Whelan.

“They gave me an opportunity and you have to make the most of it,” Whelan said. “As an athlete I was very blessed.”

As a coach, Whelan continued his success both on the track and on campus.

Prior to Whelan’s time as head coach, UK had won nine SEC Championships.

“In the six years that I was there, we won 33 SEC Championships by individual runners. Twenty of them were SEC records,” Whelan said.

He also helped integrate the university in the late 1960s by recruiting  African-American students for the track and field and cross country programs.

“I was very happy and fortunate to get Jim Green to join us,” Whelan said.

In his time as coach, Whelan pushed his athletes to take advantage of the opportunities UK gave them.

“The university was here before we came and the university is going to be here when we leave,” Whelan said. “You have to get your degree because you can’t eat a track shoe after you get out of here.”

Whelan said he owes everything to UK and is humbled by being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“I can’t express it into words,” Whelan said. “I thought I was out of sight and out of mind. So I was very tickled and pleased to be inducted in this group.”

He will be inducted alongside former men’s basketball head coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith, former men’s basketball player Rex Chapman, former women’s basketball player Leslie Nichols, former football player Oliver Barnett and former men’s tennis player Jesse Witten.

“It’s a very prestigious group and I cherish that,” Whelan said.