Garry Hill

  • March 3, 2022
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  • 4 min read

In Remembrance Of Willi Krause:
Coach, Friend & Counsellor

One who lived a life with as much depth and breadth as did Willi Krause deserves many words of description, yet in searching to find the right ones, I find myself coming back to terms that invoke the image of father-figure.

Yet that would be fair neither to my own dear father—who filled that role to the max—nor to Willi himself, who would never have sought to be such a thing. He was perfectly content being a humble teacher of field & track. No more, no less. Yet in so doing, he taught so many life lessons.

Fortunately, our friends the Ancient Greeks—the same ancients who gave us the Olympic Games that provided the backdrop for Willi’s life and the lives of so many of those whom he touched—provide us with the one single word that puts Willi’s being into a tight focus.

When the legendary Ulysses embarked upon his epic odyssey, he entrusted a good friend with the task of educating his son, Telemachus. The friend’s name was Mentor.

The dictionary today tells us that a mentor is a “trusted friend, counselor or teacher.” Millennia after Ulysses set his friend with that task, Willi, unintentionally, filled that role for decades of eager kids. Not stealing the father role, but augmenting it. For kids from greater Trail. And beyond. From the Kootenays west & east they came. From the Okanagan they came. From the Cariboo they came. They came, they listened, they learned.

He was, above all else, a mentor. Not just the finest technical mind I’ve met in a half-century in the sport, crafting hurdlers and jumpers and throwers to a razor-sharp edge that allowed them to perform at levels far beyond their limited physical gifts, but a molder of minds.

Teaching us that there was a huge world out there, with places never seen or dreamed of. People of unimaginable backgrounds to meet. The history of the world, with all its geography and history and mythology.

I can think of no greater learning experiences than the 10-hour rides it used to take us to get to meets in Vancouver. Rumbling over the rutted non-pavement of the Richter Pass between Osoyoos and Keremeos, with no air conditioning, hanging on Willi’s every word and not noticing a bit the choking dust blowing through the windows.

There was, of course, the personal life. Tales of the Depression years in Germany and his short career as a decathlete, then his birth as a coach, interrupted by life on the Eastern Front in World War II, running black-market bacon from Berlin to Moscow after the war was over (bet you didn’t know about that one!). His first world-class athlete, Erika Fisch.

The move to Canada that changed everything.

But Willi didn’t talk much about himself, unless there were other lessons to be learned. As I recall, his two favorite literary characters were Wolf Larsen, the domineering protaganist of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, and the ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes.

Willi was particularly enchanted by the tale of Diogenes (you remember him, the guy who walked around with a lamp in the daylight, explaining, “I’m looking for an honest man”) sitting in a barrel and having Alexander The Great, the most powerful man on the planet, wandering by to ask for advice, and Diogenes looked up and said, “You’re in my light.”

Willi didn’t want the light for himself. Indeed, he eschewed it skillfully. No, while at the same time preaching the virtues of teamwork, he liked to emphasize the importance of being your own person. Of knowing what was right and standing up for it.

When I look back at the timeline of my life, my actual years with Willi were oh-so-few, yet he always loomed large in my mind. Did then, does now.

I never had, in my early days, much urge to travel, but both by concidence and by design, I was fortunate enough to run into the globetrotting Willi (and sometimes the darling Eva) in Munich in ’72, in Montréal in ’76, in Rome in ’81, in Barcelona in ’92, in Stuttgart in ’93 and, finally, in Edmonton in ’01. I missed the final birthday extravaganza in Vancouver, and for that I shall be forever sorry.

I’m also sorry that the years in which Willi’s finest vision, the Fieldhouse which bears his name in which you now all sit, were those in which I was most absent from his life.

For this was surely his finest achievement.

This was his Troy.


Garry Hill, 18 July 2008