Swain Invitational, 1969


October 1969

For nearly six decades, hundreds of prep cross-country runners have converged in Duluth’s Enger Park each fall for the Swain Invitational.

The meet is named in honor of John Swain, who coached and taught at Duluth Central High School for 35 years. The first Swain Invitational was held in 1951; in the News-Tribune file photo above, Swain (far left) poses with the champions of the 1969 event. From left, they are Tim Heisel of Hopkins (A race winner), Ed Holtz of Minneapolis Southwest (B race winner) and Tim Oliver of Proctor (sophomore race winner).

Swain started coaching at Morgan Park in 1927, moved to Central the next year and founded the city’s first cross-country program. His teams won four state titles, including the first state meet in 1943. He also coached basketball, track and golf.

In 1967, Swain talked to the News Tribune about how the race took his name:

Swain intended to name it the Central Invitational, but as he put it, “Some of my coaching friends from Minneapolis had a different name in mind. They told me, ‘You can’t wait until a man dies to name something after him.’ ” The name Swain was accepted and now is a common byword around Minnesota prep cross country circles.

Swain retired in 1963, but continued to attend his namesake meet for many years to watch the runners and hand out awards. He died in September 1988 at age 93.

8 Responses

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  4. Randy R

    How many teams from northeastern Minnesota have won the Swain Invitational over the years? Long before the state was divided into A and AA Silver Bay nipped Minneapolis Washburn by 4 points to win the 17th annual (1967) Swain Invitational. The Mariners won every meet that year except state. And, yes, Garry Bjorklund won both the 1967 and 1968 Swain individual titles.

  5. Jim M

    I wonder if Garry Bjorklund ran in the Swain invitational. 1969 was the year he broke the state record for the mile, which I believe was unbeaten until last year.

    1. MN Mike Chase

      I believe he did win the Swain at least once, either ’67 or ’68, but I am not certain.

      What I am certain about is that Garry Bjorklund is STILL the reigning champion in the MN High School Mile. The “great pretender” from Lakeville did not eclipse Garry’s eternal title. 1) The mile race is no longer run in MN high school competition, being replaced by the metric version (1600 meters–a shorter distance); 2) the “reverse-projection” method where he pro-rated Garry’s 4:05.1 to the shorter metric race distance has no meaning; and 3) the elite race that Mr Pretender won in the national high school event came AFTER he had graduated from high school–and was done with the following race enhancements: use of “rabbits” to pace the runners, run at a cool time of day (either early morning or late evening) for maximum oxygen intake, in a pack of elite runners who were invited to participate.

      Garry’s record mile was set at the 1969 State Meet @ Macalester College’s Track, I believe it was rainy that day in June–and he had no competition within a hundred yards of him, no one to push or pace him. The first three laps, Garry was spot on a 4-minute mile, within tenths of a second from a 60-second quarter mile each of the first three laps.

      Sorry, Mr.Pretender, I know Garry Bjorklund–and you’re no “Garry Bjorklund”.

      MN Mike Chase
      (Lapped by Garry B in a high school mile race in ’68)

      1. Randy R

        Garry ran a awesome race that day in 1969. Although he led the entire way he did have others push him through the first 3 laps. Mike Slack ran 4:11.6 for second place while the 5th place finisher ran 4:17.2.

        1. Joe Perske

          Knowing Garry, Slack, and Heisel, they were all great champions. They knew how to pound the miles out in training and had the courage to take the lead in a race. I could only follow and stay with them as long as I could.

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