In 2002, James Li joined the Wildcat track and field coaching staff to direct the distance runners and men's and women's cross country program. He came from Washington State University, where he worked with the Cougar track and field and cross country programs for a combined total of 13 years.
During the 2009 cross country season, Li oversaw Mohamud Ige put in perhaps the comeback story of the year after a disappointing 2008 campaign. After a freak accident early in the season, Ige bounced back to earn All-American honors at the NCAA Championships with his 38th place overall finish. At the NCAA West Regionals, Ige shocked many on his way to a ninth place, All-Region performance.
As the UA's head cross country coach, Li also saw the Arizona women's squad qualify for their first NCAA Championships as a team since 2001. Last season saw Li guide redshirt freshman Abdi Hassan to a freshman record setting performance in the 1500-meter run of 3:42.04 at the NCAA West Regional Championships to finish fourth and earn a spot at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships.
Li, a native of the People's Republic of China, was a middle distance runner during his youth and collegiate years in Chengdu, China and at the Beijing Institute of Physical Education, from which he earned his Bachelor's Degree in 1982. He was a top Chinese junior runner in the late 1970s and won the Chinese Collegiate 800 meters title in 1979. Li was among the top 10 middle distance runners in China from 1980 to 1982.
Li began his coaching career at Sichuan Sports Technique Institute in his home town, Chengdu, China. He was a provincial team coach (Sichuan Province) from 1983 to 1985 where he coached men's middle and long distance runners. He joined the Washington State University men's track and field coaching staff in 1985 as a Graduate Assistant. Under the guidance of Head Coach John Chaplin, he primarily worked with distance runners.
In 1990, Li became the Head Men's Track and Field Coach at Minnesota State University at Mankato (formerly Mankato State University). During the four years at Mankato, Li coached sprinters, jumpers, as well as throwers. He directed the Mavericks to top three finishes in North Central Conference in each of the indoor and outdoor track championships from 1992 to1994. Mankato State also had multiple top ten finishes at NCAA II Indoor, Outdoor, and Cross Country National Championships during Li's tenure.
Li rejoined the Washington State men's staff in 1994, and began coaching both men and women's distance runners in 1995 when the Cougars combined their track and field/cross country programs. Li was named the WSU Head Cross Country Coach in 1998.
During his collegiate coaching career, Li has coached numerous individual athletes and relay teams to more than 30 conference championships, 50 All-American honors, and 9 national championships.
While at Washington State University, Li recruited and coached distance great Bernard Lagat. Behind Li's guidance, Lagat won four NCAA Championship titles and was named Division I National Indoor Athlete of the Year and Pac-10 Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 1999. Li continues to coach Lagat during his post-collegiate years as he was ranked among the top four runners in the world in 1500 meters nine out of the past ten years. Lagat holds National Records in 1500m in two countries (Kenya and the United States) and is the all-time second fastest person in the world over the distance. He also holds American Records in Indoor Mile and 3000m. Lagat won a bronze medal in 1500m at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. In 2007 in Osaka, Japan, Lagat became the first man to win double Gold Medals in the 1500m and 5000m at an IAAF World Championships.
As the distance coach at Arizona, Li is credited for the success of former UA distance standout Robert Cheseret. While running for the Wildcats, Cheseret broke three school records and won two NCAA National Championship titles (outdoor track). Robert also won ten Pacific-Ten individual titles in track and cross country (the most Pac-10 distance titles won by one person in the conferences' history) and was named the Pacific-Ten Conference Athlete of the Year twice in Cross Country and three times in Outdoor Track and Field.
Of the current Wildcat runners, Li coached Christina Rodgers to an All-Region performance in 800 meter run in 2008 and her best time of 2:04.90 ranks second on the all-time Wildcat list.
Behind Li's leadership, Arizona's Men's Cross Country Team won NCAA Western Regional Championships and earned a top-four national ranking in 2005.
As a professional, Li is well known and well respected nationally and internationally. He has earned several NCAA Regional Coach of the Year honors (both in cross country and track). For his work with Bernard Lagat, Li was selected by USA Track and Field as well as U.S. Olympic Committee as the National Coach of the Year in 2007. Over the years, Li was invited to present and speak at numerous local, national, and international coaches' clinics and educational programs. In 2006, Li earned the "Chief Coach Certificate," the highest designation under IAAF Coaches' Education Program. Li has also been selected as staff member to a number of U.S. National Teams, most recently as the Head Manager of U.S. Men's Track and Field Team to 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
Li was born in Chengdu, China and was naturalized as a United States citizen in May of 1998. He received a master's degree in biomechanics from Washington State University in 1987 and a doctorate in educational athletic administration in 1993. Li and his wife, Jean, have two sons, Allen and Anthony.