Edwardo Torres first started taking mental notes about Pete Henkes in the late 1990s during the annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Midwest Regionals at UW-Parkside.
Torres was a national-level high school runner from Wheeling High School in Illinois. And Henkes, a 1973 St. Catherine’s High School graduate, was a highly-regarded race official who still is director of the Foot Locker Midwest Regionals.
Torres, who was sixth in the Foot Locker nationals as a senior in 1998, has since become the USA Track & Field Long Distance Running Chairman. And when it came time for Torres to put together a coaching staff for the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships March 29 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Henkes quickly came to mind.
“It pretty much came down to his experience,” said the 33-year-old Torres, who is based in Boulder, Colo. “I’ve known him for awhile. I’ve known him as the Wisconsin Runner coach and he’s done a good job with them. So it was an easy pick for me, being in the chairman position, to have him go out there and be the coach for the World half team.”
Henkes, who has been race director for the annual Lighthouse Run since 1999, is honored by his selection. At the same time, he sees his role as similar to when he accompanies qualifiers for the Foot Locker Nationals to San Diego every December.
“When you’re the Olympic basketball coach, you get to stay together and you practice and you coach,” Henkes said. “When you’re an Olympic track coach ... they all have their personal coaches, so your job is to make sure they get to perform as well as possible.
“You take all the anxiety and hiccups out of the trip and make sure their drinks are at the water stops. Even if they call it a coach, you’re basically more of a manager, I would say.”
Henkes’ team is about to be finalized. The top three from the USA Half Marathon National Championships Jan. 19 at Houston are guaranteed spots if they want to compete. The remaining two positions, Henkes said, will be based on USA performance lists from 2013.
One complication is the event will be held close in time to the Boston Marathon, which is April 21. Henkes said some of the top runners may choose to train for that event rather than compete in Copenhagen.
A bonus for Henkes is the thought that he probably wouldn’t have been able to accept the position had it been offered last year at this time. He underwent double knee replacement on his 58th birthday last July 16 and weighs about 100 pounds less than he did last March.
“It wouldn’t have been fair to the athletes because my knees where that bad,” Henkes said.
In Torres’ mind, he has the perfect man for this job.
“He knows how to keep athletes on an even keel and not overwhelm them with too much information or get them nervous,” Torres said. “He has the demeanor of being calm and that’s what athletes want to see when they’re at a place like that.”