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Doris Heritage Profile

Doris Heritage | Head coach, Seattle Pacific University women's cross country; former U.S. Olympian

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World record breaking run.


It should come as no surprise that the greatest distance runners of the Sixties and Seventies has spawned one of the premier collegiate running programs in NCAA Division II history. Both in America and around the globe, the name of Doris Brown Heritage is synonymous with the best in women’s distance running.

Over the last 38 years, she has been a pioneer for the sport, a competitor without peer and, later, coach to some of the greatest collegians on record. So it’s not surprising that Heritage is a member of both an athlete's and coach's hall of fame. Further, she is considered one of the Northwest's greatest personalities of the 20th Century by both Sports Illustrated and The Seattle Times. In 1999, Heritage became just the second female inducted to the United States Track Coaches Hall of Fame. Earlier, in 1990, the five-time world champion and two-time Olympian was inducted into U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame for her success in running.

Now in her 39th year on the SPU coaching staff and her 28th as head coach of cross country, Heritage has always been on the leading edge of her profession. During the 1960s and ’70s, she set the standard for women’s distance standouts of today. As her competitive career drew to a close, she became increasingly involved in coaching. Although Heritage has received several national and international appointments, her greatest commitment has always been her SPU programs, and that commitment is evident in the Falcons’ achievements during her tenure.

Ten of her cross country teams have placed in the top 10 at national meets and Seattle Pacific has won the conference women’s championships seven of the last 12 years, and the men’s team won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title in 2004. In 1996, SPU was the West Region women’s champion. Twenty harriers have earned All-America status, including two national champions. Heritage has been voted by her peers the conference coach of the year seven times. And that’s just in the fall.

In track and field, her middle-distance and distance runners have helped form the foundation of the nationally prominent Falcon track team, which she serves as assistant coach. Under her tutelage, seven women have won AIAW and NCAA titles from 800-10,000 meters. In all, SPU men and women runners have scored at nationals 38 times in the last 28 years.

Without a doubt the world’s premier distance runner during the ’60s, Heritage first honed her skills as a member of the Falcon Track Club, the forerunner to today’s women’s varsity. Under the direction of Ken Foreman, the then-Doris Brown set two American records before graduating from SPU in 1964. Eventually she owned every national and world record from 440 yards up to the mile. And the longer the distance, the more dominant she became. Unfortunately during her reign there were few women’s races over 5,000 meters. Nevertheless, Heritage did shine in the international spotlight.

She was named to the U.S. Olympic team in 1968 and 1972, taking fifth in the 800m at Mexico City. A last-minute injury prevented her from running the 1500m in Munich. She won the silver medal (800m) at Pan American Games in 1967 and 1971. From 1967-71, Heritage won an unprecedented five consecutive world cross country championships, and raced on nine U.S. world teams in all. During her prime she won 14 national titles, and set a world record in the 440, 800, mile and 3000m. Still running in front of the pack, she won the U.S. Masters cross country title in 1989.

Heritage has remained a fixture on the world’s stage since her racing days. She was an assistant coach on staffs selected for various major competitions, including the 1984 and ’88 Olympic Games, the ’87 and ’90 World Championships. She remains a frontrunner, having become the first female to be elected to the prestigious IAAF Cross Country and Road Race Committee in 1988. More recently, she has served as head coach of the U.S. Ekiden Cup contingent in Japan, the U.S. world championships cross country team and the USA-Great Britain dual meet in 1993. In 1996 Heritage was the chief of mission for the U.S. cross country team at the world championships in South Africa.

Heritage is a native of Gig Harbor, Wash. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in physical education from SPU in 1964, and received her master’s in education in 1971. She has been an assistant professor at her alma mater since that time. Doris and husband Ralph Heritage reside in West Seattle.