Denis Fikes took the collegiate track and field and cross country world by storm in his very first year with the Quakers in 1970.  And after four consecutive years of the same intensity and Penn pride, Fikes finished his track career at Penn with several championships, numerous accolades and plenty of records.  His love of the sport, and collegiate athletics in general, propelled him into various coaching positions and his current administrative duty in the University of Pennsylvania's athletic department.

 

Fikes began his collegiate career with a Philadelphia Big 5 Freshman Cross Country Championship in 1970.  He also finished fifth in the freshman race at the IC4A Cross Country Championship with a time of 14:42.0.  During his first track season, Fikes set school records in the mile (4:03.9 in King Games Dream Mile) and steeple chase (8:51.6 at AAUs).

His second year with the Quakers was equally impressive, as Fikes led the Penn team to the 1971 Heptagonal Cross Country Championship and a sixth-place individual finish (24:53).  He was the top Penn finisher, along with Dave Merrick, with a seventh-place finish at the IC4As.  The Quakers competed at the NCAA Championships that season as well, and finished third as a team, Penn's best placing ever.  Fikes finished 75th overall with a time of 31:12.  The indoor track season saw Fikes earn two Heptagonal Championships, one in the 1,000-meter run (2:11.7) and one as the anchor of the two-mile relay squad.  At the IC4As, Fikes was a part of the school-record setting distance medley relay team and set an individual Penn-record in the 1,000 with a time of 2:08.9.  Outdoors, Fikes won the steeplechase title at Heps in 9:01.0 and ran on the four-mile relay record-setting team.

 

Fikes' cross country season in 1972 started with a Big 5 co-title at Belmont Plateau with a winning time of 26:05.  He then won the Indoor Heps' 1,000-meter championship and anchored the two-mile relay team to the title.  Fikes improved upon those accolades with a 4:02.0 mile to win the IC4A championship, which broke the record for the meet, before he finished fifth at the NCAA Championships in the 1000-yard race.

 

As a senior, Fikes did not disappoint.  During the cross country season, he finished third at Princeton (24:35), second at the Big 5 Championships (25:42) and sixth at IC4As (24:30), while also being a part of the 1973 Heps Cross Country Championship team.  Indoors, he won the Navy Dual and the Princeton Dual in the 1,000-meter, finished second at the IC4As in the two-mile and finished fourth at the Heps in the 1,000.  He then anchored the distance medley relay team (mile) to a second-place finish and recorded the fastest leg ever on an 11-lap NCAA track.  Fikes also finished third in the two-mile race at the Indoor NCAA Championships.

 

But Fikes saved his best for last.  In the Spring of 1974, he became the first Penn and Ivy League athlete to break a four-minute mile when he ran a 3:55.0.  It was also the best performance by an African-American athlete in the U.S. and was ranked 15th on the all-time world list at the time.

 

In all, Denis Fikes recorded over 25 school records in the middle distance events from 1,000 meters to three-miles.  He won seven Heptagonal titles and one IC4A title.  He was a six-time All-Eastern honoree and a two-time All-American.  And he wasn't done yet.

 

After college, Fikes continued the sport he loved with the Philadelphia Pioneers, Marine Corps and Athletic Attic.  He represented the U.S. twice during 1976, competing in the USA vs. USSR indoor dual meet and the CISM games (International Military Championships).  After his running became hampered by injuries, Fikes took to coaching and administration.  He held coaching positions with the Marines and Harvard University, before coming back to Penn in 1986 to be the associate athletic director and now serves as the compliance coordinator for the athletic department.

 

“Nineteen seventy-one was the first season that freshmen were permitted to compete on varsity teams.  One of the new freshmen was Illinois scholastic standout, David Merrick.  Merrick would go on to set the course record at NYC's famed Van Cortlandt Park in his last year.  Vandy is considered by many to be the "Mecca" of cross country running.  It was my sophomore year.  Moving up to the varsity with me was a team that went undefeated as freshmen.  We joined a mature varsity squad that was hungry for the success that eluded them the year before.  We recorded an undefeated regular season.  Our first loss came at the hands of Villanova in the Big 5 Championships.  Undaunted, we captured the Heptagonal Cross Country Championship, placing seven harriers in the top eight.  The second loss of the season came at the IC4A Championships when we again lost a dog fight to Villanova in the mire of the Vandy hills.  We closed the season with a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.  Our cross-town rival, Villanova, placed fourth.”  - Denis Elton Cochran-Fikes