Track: Gnan headed Elk strong girls program for 18 years

Russ Gnan, fourth from left, assembled the coaching staff for a portrait in June with the many plaques earned by the Elks  during his tenure from 1995 through 2012. From left are Brenda Holmgren, Wayne Becklin, Dave Anderson, Gnan, Doug Bloom, Bill Martell, Brian Gilbertson, Mike Cross and Kirsten Anderson.


by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Russ Gnan, who made girls track one of the most vibrant programs at Elk River High School, resigned from his his head coach position last spring.

In Gnan’s 18 seasons, 1995-2012, seven teams were section true-team champions, with two placing fourth and two more placing fifth at state true-team. He had six championships in regular MSHSL meets and four conference champs.

“I was very good at one thing: Getting the best female athletes out for track,” said Gnan.

He credits physical education teachers at ERHS, Salk and VandenBerge for alerting him about good athletes.

“Luckily, most of the good  ones came out, and made us coaches look very good.”

Sixteen individuals, and 12 relay teams, were all-state over the years, meaning they advanced to state finals and placed in the top nine. Two were state champs, Sasha Gangle in hurdles and Michelle Maciej in triple-jump.

Gnan also coached the boys from 2001-08, with one state true-team appearance and two regular MSHSL section titles, plus 10 individual all-staters and one relay team.

A math teacher, Gnan said he detected that his enthusiasm was not as high as earlier in his career.

“I didn’t think it was fair to the athletes who have a coach who wasn’t into it 100 percent. I don’t know if they noticed the difference, but I did.”

Gnan added that he is young enough to come back in some capacity if “I miss it, or get re-charged.”

The last three years have been one of the most successful stretches of any team in ERHS history as the Elk tracksters were conference, section, and true-team section champions each year.

Gnan said he was fortunate to have coaches who stuck with the program.

“Most of our coaches were with us 10 or more years,” he noted. “I think it was important to our kids to know who was going to be here the next year and be able to build relationships over four to six years with their event coach.”

Gnan was a track, cross country and swimming athlete in high school, and has done some coaching in the other two sports here as well in the past.

(Editor’s note: Gnan resigned in June but the Star News wasn’t aware of it until recently).