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A career of highs, lows — and Olympians

If you tuned in to the four-hour opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, you might have wondered at some point, "Is this parade of nations ever going to end?" Mark Lutz, a 1970 graduate of Mayo High School, can relate.

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Mark Lutz singned a letter of intent on the back of his father, Ed, to attend Kansas University with KU's USA Track and Field Hall of Fame Coach Bob Timmons watching in April 1970.
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If you tuned in to the four-hour opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, you might have wondered at some point, "Is this parade of nations evergoing to end?"

Mark Lutz, a 1970 graduate of Mayo High School, can relate.

He was a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team in Montreal, and he marched in the parade of nations.

"It was amazing, but it was torture," the 64-year-old Lutz said. "There was no breeze at all that day, and it was a daytime event. It was like we were in a sauna. I was in good shape, but the sweat was just dripping off of me. We were out there in the stadium for 2 1/2, maybe three hours. A lot of guys didn't want to do it, because if you were competing the next day, you didn't want to be out there standing in the sun like that."

To make matters worse, Lutz was also carrying a hidden burden, a secret that would put a damper on his Olympic experience.

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He was injured.

On Monday, as the guest speaker for a lunch meeting of the Rochester Quarterbacks Club, Lutz explained what happened to him five weeks before he toed the line for what would prove to be his one and only race as an Olympian.

"When I made the Olympic team, it was one of those moments of joy and agony," he said. "As I was coming down the homestretch of the finals in the Olympic trials, I could feel my hamstring tearing. As I crossed the finish line, I knew that in five weeks there was no way I was going to be ready for the Olympics."

He had recorded the third-fastest 200-meter time in the world for that year, behind two other American runners, and if healthy he would have been a serious contender for a medal in Montreal.

He told no one about his injury.

"I had a six-meet schedule lined up in Europe before the Olympics, but I backed out of it," he said. "If I'd gone over there and run, they'd have known right away that I was hurt. I just went back to Long Beach and stayed there, didn't tell anybody anything, because they would have replaced me. I'd worked so hard, and being an Olympian was my life's goal, what I wanted to do. So I went to Montreal and limped through one qualifying round."

He finished fifth in his 200-meter preliminary heat. "I wasn't happy," he said.

Brushes with fame

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It was a bittersweet capstone to a stellar running career, a career that brought Lutz into contact with numerous famous Olympians — including arguably the most famous track star in U.S. history.

"I first thought about going to the Olympics in 1967, the summer of my sophomore year in high school," Lutz told the Quarterbacks Club. "I went up to the national junior champs meet in Anoka, and I ended up winning the 220-yard championship. That was where I ran into my first Olympian. The master of ceremonies, the head man, was Jesse Owens. I got a handshake and I still have an autographed poster of him."

After setting multiple state records as a Mayo Spartan, Lutz had plenty of options for college.

"My mom and dad wanted me to go the University of Minnesota, so they could see me compete," he said. "I wanted to go to UCLA, but they weren't going to let me go out there. So we compromised, and I went to the University of Kansas, which had a dynamite track program."

On a recruiting trip to Kansas, he met Jim Ryun, an Olympic silver medalist in 1968 who in 1970 held the world record in the half-mile, mile, 1,500 meters and two-mile. "I was pretty impressed, to say the least, that Ryun wanted me to come to KU, so that's where I ended up going."

A star at KU

Lutz had a spectacular career at Kansas, winning multiple individual Big 8 titles in the 100, 200 and 400, and running the third leg for the 4x100 relay team that won a national title in his senior year.

Along the way, he met other future Olympians.

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"I was very good friends with Bruce Jenner," Lutz said. "He went to a little college in Iowa, Graceland College, and he came to the Kansas Relays every year. The year I got to know him was 1972, and he won the decathlon. He broke the Kansas Relays record, and the record he broke was held by Wilt Chamberlain."

In 1985, Lutz was inducted into the University of Kansas Hall of Fame, and the person who introduced him was Billy Mills, who won gold in the 10,000-meter race in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

"The Olympics have always been a very important part of my life," Lutz said. "I still enjoy watching them."

He also likes knowing that the athletes competing in Rio have undergone frequent and thorough testing for performance-enhancing drugs — something that didn't happen when Lutz was in his prime.

"There basically were no rules back then," he said. "Everybody knew the East Germans and the Soviet Union were doing it. That's just how it was."

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