The sport of running lost one its true guiding lights today as news of Geoff Hollister’s passing was announced in Portland, Oregon. Hollister succumbed to cancer just days after his 66th birthday following a several year battle with the disease. Full story here
Among his many other talents, Geoff was instrumental in bringing Alberto Salazar out to Oregon, and this past weekend at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Al’s home town of Boston, Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project athletes Galen Rupp, Mo Farah, and Ciaran O’Lionard all wore specially designed singlets in honor of Geoff. Galen, who grew up in Eugene and attended the University of Oregon, like Geoff, was especially touched.
“He was so passionate about the sport,” recalled Galen last Friday, Geoff’s 66th birthday. “He brought so many new ideas, like Athletics West (the Nike-sponsored track team of the late 1970s). He really knew how to advance the sport. I’ve known him since high school, and he was always so good to be around.”
I’d known Geoff for over 30 years, too, and we’d reconnect every August at Joanie Samuelson’s Beach to Beacon 10k in Maine, where his laugh and embrace of life were always in full engagement. Though he’d long retired from Nike, Geoff kept busy in recent years using his arts background to produce documentary films, from the award-winning “Fire on the Track”, the tale of Steve Prefontaine, to last year’s “There is No Finish Line” showcasing the saga of Joanie’s rise to Olympic glory, and her continued influence on runners of all ages, genders, and abilities.
One of the original “Men of Oregon”, as writer and fellow Duck Kenny Moore dubbed the men who ran for legendary Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, Geoff Hollister lived a life that exemplified Joseph Campbell’s dictate to “follow your bliss”. May we all be so fortunate.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon continued the robust recent major marathon tradition of early sell-outs today, announcing that they have closed registration for the 45,000 entries in their 35th anniversary race in a record six days, 25 faster than last year’s record. Just as in Boston and New York City, demand to run the iconic distance through a major American city has increased significantly in recent years. A decade ago, the 2003 event closed in 35 weeks.
“It’s become one of the traditional sporting days in Chicago,” said executive director Carey Pinkowski, explaining the event’s lure. “The fact that it’s a phenomenal experience for the runners, a great tour of the city, each facet of it is an example of team work. The participants are celebrated for their commitment, but the city agencies that are involved, the volunteers, the city residents, some way or another, the event connects them all.
“So many people have discovered running,” he continued. “It’s become a social phenomenon. But in this day and age, the word “Marathon” resonates with the very concept of commitment and determination.”
As we were prepping to speak about the good news about the marathon, Carey and I, as we so often do, began reminiscing. First, I took him through this past weekend’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston with its own sold-out crowd of 4000 filling the Reggie Lewis Center. We then lamented the low turnout and weak fields at the previous week’s inaugural U.S. Open meet in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A replacement for the 100+ year-old Millrose Games, which moves this weekend uptown to the New York Armory for the first time, the U.S. Open announced its crowd at 5800, where once the Garden rocked with 18,000+ track fans anxious to to watch the best in the world compete on its 11-laps to the mile boards. Carey then recalled the days of Chicago’s own indoor meet, the Daily News Relays.
“It doesn’t even show up on Google anymore,” he chuckled. “That’s how long gone it’s been.”
But, boy, when nobody even thought of running/jogging a marathon, the Daily News Relays once filled the old Chicago Stadium with 19,400 fans to watch local Loyola University product Tom O’Hara take down the world indoor mile record March 6, 1964. O’Hara’s 3:56.4 over Jim Grelle’s 3:58.9 on the 160-yard board track was the fastest in Chicago history, and drew a crowd that lasted as largest in the old Chicago Stadium for 40 years. Not until the third of the Chicago Bulls six NBA titles did a larger crowd jam into the old barn where the Chicago Blackhawks also hosted their NHL rivals. And that was only after the arena reconfigured its seating to hold more people.
“I still have the video from that race,” said Carey. “It was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. ABC was covering the Celtics – Knicks (NBA) game, and at half-time they broke away to show the Banker’s Mile at the Daily News Relays. O’Hara was on the cover of Sports Illustrated that year. That’s how they used to cover track back then, breaking away from barrel-jumping or ski jumping to show Jim Beatty or Jim Ryun run the mile. I guess people have too many options to sit around and watch track and field these days.”
Odd, though, how as the activity of running continues to rise, interest in its excellence seems to have completely waned. American Exceptionalism seems to have been replaced by American Okayism. Wish there was an answer. If you have one, I think USATF is still searching for a new CEO. Heck, find a way to clean up that sand box, and who knows, the GOP may come calling. They still haven’t shown any signs of a true Mitt embrace as yet. Wonder what Tom O’Hara’s up to these days?