Alaska’s first Olympic runner, Don Clary starred at Anchorage’s East High after developing an interest in running as a 9th grader. He won all but two races in his prep career, finishing runner-up in those.
As a high school competitor, Clary set state bests 27 times and still holds records at one mile, two miles and 5,000 meters.
As a high school senior in 1975, Clary was part of the U.S. junior team that won the title at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Rabat, Morocco. Clary placed fifth individually.
Competing for the University of Oregon, the cradle of college distance running, Clary was a four-time All-American while specializing in the 5,000 meters. The 13:45 he clocked as a freshman remains the fourth best by an American junior. Clary helped Oregon claim the 1977 NCAA team championship. Displaying his stamina, he won a national championship in the one-hour run in 1978.
He graduated from Oregon in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and earned a master’s degree in industrial relations there in 1983.
A fierce competitor who liked to set the pace and challenge the field to keep up, Clary was an elite runner at many distances. His personal-best times were 4:01 for the mile, 8:24 for the two-mile, 13:27 for the 5,000 and 28:07 for the 10,000 meters. He also ran the steeplechase in 8:26 and 3,000 meters in 7:46.
“As an aspiring young runner growing up in Alaska, Don Clary was a legend,” said former national indoor mile champion Marcus Dunbar. “He was the inspiration for us, but he set the bar higher than we could reach.”
Clary qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 and his third-place 5,000 finish in 1984 made him an Olympian. At the Summer Games in Los Angeles, Clary ran 13:44 in his first-round heat of the 5,000 meters to advance to the semifinals. He finished 12th in the semis.
In 1985, representing the United States, Clary won a silver medal in the indoor world championships in Paris at 3,000 meters.
– Lew Freedman