It was relatively early in Bob Day's track career at UCLA and he was scheduled to race against one of the best two-milers in the nation. His chances of winning seemed slim, so the coach told him to focus on second place and earn valuable points for the team.
"He just kind of looked at me," former Bruin Coach Jim Bush said Thursday. "Then he went out and won … and from that day on, I never said he couldn't do something."
Over the next two years, Day established himself as the greatest distance runner in the history of UCLA's storied program, setting records in multiple events, leading the Bruins to a 1966 national championship and representing the U.S. at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Day died of bladder cancer Thursday at his home in Irvine, his wife said. He was 67.
Born Robert Winston Day on Oct. 31, 1944, the Southern California native grew up in San Marino. He worked in the healthcare industry for many years before becoming a coach at Beckman High School in Irvine, where he built the track and cross country programs from scratch.
"He was so happy," Bush said. "He loved it."
During his college career, from 1963 to 1966, he set school records at 1,500 and 5,000 meters. His times of 3:56.4 in the mile and 8:33 in the two-mile were national records at the time.
After setting the mile mark, which stood as a school best for four decades, Day told the Times: "Competition always gives you an added lift."
Bush recalled the lanky athlete as a hard worker who was smart enough to adjust to different strategies. Day also was considered the top cross-country runner in the nation during his junior and senior seasons at UCLA, where he majored in business administration. He was captain of the national championship team, but a heel injury kept him out of the title meet.
After graduating, Day won the 1968 USA Track & Field Senior National crown in the 5,000 meters and competed in Europe until an injury forced him to retire. He moved to Irvine in the early 1980s with his family.
Each spring, UCLA's best distance runner receives the Bob Day Award. He was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
Day is survived by his wife, Jenny; and daughters Dava Voss and Amanda Day.
Services are pending.