Jan. 9, 2014
For immediate release
Long-time ARC coach helped bring Olympic Trials to town
(Second in a series highlighting the eight members of the Sacramento Running Association’s 2014 Hall of Fame class. Today: Al Baeta)
Al Baeta’s contributions to the running world started in Sacramento, spread across the country and then came back to his home town.
The McClatchy High School graduate ran for the legendary Brutus Hamilton at Cal, running the opening leg on a two-mile relay team that broke a world record but lost the race to Fordham.
Baeta set a standard for consistent excellence at American River College, coaching the Beavers cross country team to 23 consecutive appearances in the state championships and guiding the track team to an 89 percent dual-meet winning mark.
He then went on to serve as an assistant coach on the 1992 U.S. Olympic track and field team and as team manager for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team.
Baeta also was a key player in helping Sacramento land a number of major track and field meets, including the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2000 and 2004 and the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Those outstanding contributions earned Baeta a spot in the Sacramento Running Association’s Hall of Fame. He will be inducted at a dinner on Jan. 25 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, joining seven other 2014 inductees: Patti Gray, Lindsay Hyatt Barr, Harold Kuphaldt, Heike Skaden Mansoor, John Mansoor, Michael Stember and Tim Twietmeyer.
That group joins the 2013 Hall of Fame class inducted last year: Rae Clark, Eileen Claugus, Chris Iwahashi, Helen Klein, Billy Mills, Paul Reese, Dennis Rinde and Linda Somers Smith.
The SRA will also present its Annual Achievement Awards, including Athlete of the Year to Shadrack Biwott.
Tickets for the 6 p.m. dinner are $50 and can be obtained at www.runsra.org.
“It is a special honor that is very humbling to be receiving,” said Baeta, now 80 and living in Carmichael with his wife, Patty. “This is really special because it’s home. To be recognized by, really, your peers, it’s extra special.”
Everything Baeta did in the running world was special.
He ran for Jack Mauger at McClatchy and Tom Weems at Sacramento Junior College before competing for Hamilton at Cal. He left in awe of his mentors, wondering if he had what it took to be a good coach.
“I thought to myself, ‘I can’t measure up to them; I don’t think I should be a coach,’” he said. “They were just larger than life to me. They were individuals who truly cared about their athletes.”
Hamilton, in particular, left a major impression.
“Brutus had such an impact on all his athletes,” Baeta said. “He was incredible. He was a philosopher. He left such a great impact on me.”
Baeta said he’ll always cherish the memory of running a leg on the two-mile relay team that broke the world record, running 7:28.5, only to lose the race to Fordham’s new mark of 7:27.3 at the LA Coliseum Relays in 1954.
“It was incredibly exciting,” he said. “We were very proud of ourselves.”
Baeta, who spent four years in the Navy as an Air Intelligence Officer, is probably best known for his long coaching run at American River College guiding track and cross country teams. The Beavers compiled a 92 percent winning mark in cross country and 89 percent in track and field.
He relied largely on local talent to assemble a cross country power that qualified for the state meet 23 years in a row during his ARC tenure from 1964-1996. That meant his team finished in the top five in Northern California every year during that streak, an impressive feat of sustained excellence.
“We had some great coaches in the area,” said Baeta, whose team recorded three second- and three third-place finishes at the state cross country meet.
“We were always there … We had some great, great athletes, just tremendous people.”
Baeta served as an assistant coach on the U.S. national track and field team in 1973, which led to him landing a spot as an assistant coach on the 1992 U.S. Olympic track and field team. During the Opening Ceremonies in Barcelona, as he stood with fellow assistant coaches Erv Hunt and Ed Jacoby, the magnitude of the moment hit home.
“A huge Olympic flag spread over the entire assemblage of athletes,” he said. “My wife was in the stands. The flag was fluttering in the wind … I said, ‘We’re really here.’ That was a moment we realized we were part of the Olympic team.
“That was a special moment.”
So was being chosen as manager for the 1996 U.S. Olympic track and field team that competed in the Atlanta Games. Baeta worked with Hunt, women’s coach Deanne Vochatzer from UC Davis and women’s team manager Martha Watson to create a sense of unity among the men’s and women’s teams.
“I was very proud of that,” he said. “We wanted the Olympic track and field team to be the Olympic team, not the men’s team and the women’s team.”
Baeta also played a big role in establishing Sacramento as a city to hold major track meets. He served as meet director the 1968 AAU Championships at Hughes Stadium and helped bring the 1972 USA-USSR Junior track meet to town.
He was part of the Sacramento delegation bidding for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials that went to New Orleans, laying the groundwork for the capital city to land the Olympic Trials in 2000 and 2004.
Baeta, of course, had a hand in that, too, and in helping Sacramento secure the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
“I really thought the NCAAs was a real coup for us as well,” he said. “That was an incredible meet, a fantastic meet.
“I’d like to see Sacramento back on the scene.”
The Sacramento Running Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.