Ron Renko succeeded ISU Hall of Fame coach Chris Murray in 1979 and continued to keep the Iowa State women’s cross country and track and field programs among the best nationally from 1979-85. Renko coached 20 All-Americans, 14 individual Big Eight Conference champions and led the Cyclones to two Big Eight cross country titles and one AIAW national championship during his tenure. The personable coach was known nationally for his innovative training techniques, many of which tied physical and mental development together. Renko had a knack for taking unknown freshmen runners and turning them into national competitors.
A native of Anoka, Minn., Renko arrived in Ames in 1979 after coaching at Golden Valley (Minn.) Lutheran College from 1974-79. In just his second season as women’s track and field and cross country coach (1981), the Cyclones captured the Big Eight title and national championship (AIAW) in cross country. ISU’s Dorthe Rasmussen won the individual titles at both the Big Eight and AIAW meets, becoming just the second Cyclone in school history to win an individual cross country national title. Renko’s Cyclones won another Big Eight cross country crown in 1983, as Margaret Davis and Suzanne Youngberg finished the season as All-Americans, placing 14th and 29th, respectively, at the NCAA meet to help the Cyclones finish sixth.
One of Renko’s top all-time performers was Nawal El Moutawakel. El Moutawakel was brought in by Renko and his staff in 1982 from
Heading into the 1985 cross country season, there were low expectations for the Cyclones. ISU failed to make the national meet for the first time in its 10-year history in 1984 and the Cyclones still had a relatively young team for 1985. Renko shocked the cross country world by rallying the Cyclones to one of their most successful seasons. ISU finished first or second in all nine meets during the season, led by freshman Jill Slettedahl and junior Bonnie Sons. The duo finished seventh and eighth, respectively, to help the Cyclones place second at the Big Eight Championship and the pair placed fifth and seventh to pace ISU to the NCAA District V Championship.
Prior to the 1985 NCAA Cross Country meet in
The tragic loss of lives stunned the