Month: June 2019

RWANDA USING SPORT TO REUNIFY WHILE OPENING ITS ARMS TO THE WORLD

Kigali, Rwanda-  25 years ago Rwanda descended into the darkest corner of the human heart, a place devoid of empathy or compassion. It led to a 100-day genocide that eviscerated the nation and left a stain that only time can diminish if not fully erase.

A quarter-century later, however, Rwanda has made remarkable progress in its long cleansing and rebuilding effort.  In a single generation, the country has brought conciliation to its people, and reached out to the world. Signs through Kigali announce “Remember, Unite, Renew”.

Led by its President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has expanded opportunities in all areas of society. In business, it has the second fastest growing economy in all of Africa (7.5% per annum since 2007). Primary school education is now available to 98% of its children. It is the fifth safest country to walk at night worlwide, and it has the largest percentage of women in Parliament in Africa at 61%.

Rwanda also has a goal of becoming the hub of sports for Africa, which is what brought me to Central Africa for the 15th Kigali International Peace Marathon. (more…)

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R.I.P. GABE

Pulitzer Prize winning historian Jon Meacham has written a new book with country singer Tim McGraw called Songs of America. In promoting his latest work, Meacham often says of America, “We are at our best when we live up to the words of Jefferson, ‘all men are created equal’.”

But within that founding sentiment we rarely ask how is it that all men are truly created equal. What is it that binds us all in this human family?

There is an underlying assumption that because our Creator is deemed good, and we have been made in His likeness and image, that there is dignity and value in all men and women, and it is that understanding that makes us all alike. But history and experience tells us something quite different. (more…)

STEVE JONES AWARDED MBE BY QUEEN ELIZABETH II: REMEMBERING CHICAGO 1984

With the good and proper news that Welshman Steve Jones has been awarded the prestigious Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it would be fitting that we go back to the time when Steve first lifted his name into the marathoning spotlight along Lake Michigan with his 2:08:05 world record. 

In those days, the sport was still heavily centered around the Boston – New York City axis.  The London Marathon had only been around for four years, and the Los Angeles Marathon was still two years from its beginning.  Bringing world-class competition beyond its East Coast roots was a major accomplishment for Chicago and an important factor in helping grow interest in the sport.

Jonesy’s stellar run in Chicago `84 also represented another turning point in the game.  It marked the last time the men’s marathon world record would be set without the aid of pacesetters.  Here, then is my contemporaneous race report from Chicago 1984, a day to remember in the annals of marathoning history and jumping off point for one of the great marathon careers of the all-time.  Congratulations, Sir Steve!

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Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984
Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicago 1984

Chicago, IL. — And then there was the weather, forty-four degrees with a wind-driven rain like an icy finger tracing the nape of your neck. Over 10,000 huddled runners jittered anxiously at the dual starting lines on Clark and Dearborn Streets for the 8:45 a.m. signal to begin the 8th America’s Marathon/Chicago (as it was known in those days).

On the front row stood some of the best marathoners in the world. “It’s the Olympics all over again”, said one punter as champions from every continent pawed the ground, anxious to be off on their heat-generating journey to Lincoln Park. This was no place for the skittish, rather an end-of-the-season, post-Olympic blowout engineered by Beatrice Foods sponsorship money and race director Bob Bright’s orchestration.

“The Games are over. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have a go,” was how Welshman Steve Jones prophetically put it the day before. (more…)

CELEBRATING GLOBAL RUNNING DAY ON FRED LEBOW’S BIRTHDAY

This Wednesday, June 5th is Global Running Day, and there will be celebrations and recognitions throughout the world. But perhaps Global Running Day should be recognized two days earlier on June 3rd instead. Why? Because June 3 is Fred Lebow’s birthday. 

While Frank Shorter is recognized as the Alan Shepard of the Running Boom with his victory in the Munich Olympic Marathon in 1972 igniting the sport’s growth in America, Fred Lebow was the man, perhaps as much as any other, who launched the sport of road running across the world from his offices at 9 E. 89th Street, headquarters of New York Road Runners Club just off 5th Avenue and Central Park.

In 2019, Fred would have been celebrating his 87th birthday. Sadly, he died of cancer in October 1994 at the age of 62.

Running Ringmaster Fred Lebow

Fred was not a great runner himself, finishing the inaugural New York City Marathon in 1970 in 4:12:09, placing 45th out of 55 finishers.  But he was a great running impresario at a time when the sport required intrepid pioneers willing to make something out of essentially nothing.

Back in the early days when running was making inroads into more and more people’s lives, it was Fred, bullhorn in hand and true belief in his heart, who became the sport’s primary front man and tub-thumper, the man who engineered the first five-borough New York City Marathon in 1976, taking what had been a quirky event making four-laps of Central Park and turning it into an international phenomenon.

Always looking to expand the sport, both domestically and internationally, Fred was a willing interviewee as well as a self-confessed “borrower” of ideas he discovered during his far-flung travels to see how others were staging races elsewhere.

On July 21, 1980, I sat down with Fred in his office for one of our many interviews for my Runner’s Digest radio show in Boston.  In this interview, we discussed the future of running as a professional sport. It’s fascinating to go back nearly 40 years and see where Fred saw the sport’s future heading.  I can only wonder what he would have thought of today’s running world. (more…)