Tag: Fred Lebow

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…)

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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROMOTING AND DIRECTING

Interest in this Friday’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon continues to mount, though it has little to do with competition. Instead, the focus is almost entirely centered on one man, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, whose stated goal is to break the marathon world record set in Berlin 2014 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at 2:02:57.  While the marathon record is almost always the object at the annual BMW Berlin Marathon, where the last six men’s records have been run, the sport rarely finds athletes willing to boldly predict their intentions with a gaudy Trump-like flourish. Not sure if it’s chicken or egg, whether the unpredictability of the marathon itself or the nature of the men and women who ply their trade in that game tend to deliver an endless series of “Only God knows” answers to “how do you think you’ll do?” questions.  (Maybe it’s just bad questions, too). 

In any case, building fan interest under such circumstances has become increasingly difficult in a more crowded sports landscape that features more and more charismatic characters with Facebook Live accounts, tattoo tapestries, and multi-million dollar prize purses.  Even when the top first prize in marathoning is Dubai’s $200,000, it doesn’t break through to the general public as having relative importance in the greater realm of pro sports.  And if you don’t have an Olympic gold medal or a World Championship on the line, what else do you have to generate interest other than money?

But fan interest, like the stock market, is an iffy proposition. Hard to read, hard to presume or presage.  Yet there are some who are better than others at gauging what might pique the public interest. 

Promotion Game
Promotion Game

“We like making fights people are interested in,” UFC president Dana White told Colin Cowherd on his Friday, Jan. 13 show in response to the public interest in a possible Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor match between the undefeated boxer and the current mixed martial arts fan fave. “We like putting on entertainment events, whatever.  As long as the people who buy the pay-per-view or bought the tickets are excited about what happened that night, how do you lose?”

That’s the attitude a showman has, the desire to please the paying customer. The question I have is where are those characters in the running game?  Because there is a big difference between a meet director and a meet promoter.  (more…)

NO LONGER SIMPLY A MAN’S WORLD

“This is a man’s world,” James Brown sang as sweat poured down his face and his voice cut with a plaintive soul that only he and maybe Otis Redding seemed capable of producing. But the Godfather of Soul wasn’t through, concluding, “but it would be nothing, nothing, notthhiiinnnng without a woman or a girl!”

This is the way that it once was. Less we forget.

I was watching an old Groucho Marx “You Bet Your Life” TV show on YouTube recently while churning away on the elliptical cross trainer. The episode was from 1954 and was sponsored by “De Soto-Plymouth from your Chrysler dealer”.

The half-hour game show featured a series of three couples who spun a wheel and won some money, but the real entertainment was watching Groucho interact with the couples who were little more than foils for his legendary ad libs.

But in each separate case when it came time to actually play the game, it was the man who took complete control, whether in determining the value of the question, or in giving the answer, rarely even conferring with his female partner, even when you could tell he didn’t know the answer and she did.

On each occasion the woman stood meekly by as Groucho asked the questions with the same patronizing tone that the man then answered. That’s just how the world was, and still is in many places. The strong will take and assume their right to do so.

This was the attitude that formed the world-view of generation after generation of women, know your place, it’s a man’s world.

Alice Schneider, RIP
Alice Schneider, RIP

But for quiet but dignified women like Michigan native Alice Schneider, a pioneering contributor to the New York Road Runners who passed away September 24th, that attitude was never a comfortable fit, nor one to be blindly perpetuated.  The country was changing as Alice was coming of age. And so was the sport of running. (more…)

THE FESTIVALIZATION OF SPORT — Respite from the competition of life

“Charming, smiling fellow”

In our center-right, celebrity-saturated society it is all but apostacy to say, as Yale University Sterling Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom did in a C-SPAN interview in 2000, “The country was almost destroyed by Ronald Reagan, that charming, smiling fellow.  He assured us we could all emancipate ourselves from our selfishness, which we proceeded to do on a national scale.”

Bloom’s biting assessment arrived on the heels of the dot-com bubble, but a full eight years before the housing bubble burst, a collapse that plummeted the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Today, we are still on the long climb back to full recovery, if such a thing even exists.

In our modest running world, a similar emancipation has taken place.  Over the last generation, running has witnessed its own emancipation from effort, better known as the “Everyone’s a Winner” phase of the second running boom.  Runner’s World’s Mark Remy wrote about it this past January – OK, Time to Retire the Finisher’s Medal, and just yesterday the Wall Street Journal took up the issue – A lack of competitiveness in younger runners is turning some races into parades.

In June 1982, the late president of the New York Road Runners and race director of the New York City Marathon Fred Lebow told me, “You talk of a running boom, but we haven’t seen a boom yet.  This has only been a boom-let.  The one area that is completely behind the times is women running.  Most races see 15-25% women, yet the population is over 50% women.”

As with most things, Lebow was a seer.  Today, mass marathons in the U.S. are generally over 50% women with some tilting over 60%. Even registration for next April’s Boston Marathon, the oldest continuously run marathon in the world, has skewed heavily female.  Much of that is the consequence of last year’s tragic bombings at the Boston finish line, but some of it is Lebow’s prophecy coming true.

Though the 2014 Boston Marathon registration will skew slower and more female than usual with addition of the 4700 entrants from 2013, predominantly women, who were unable to complete the distance due to the finish line bombings, it is still a long way from 1979 when only 520 women entered Boston compared to 7357 men. (more…)

RACING WITH THE STARS?

The field lists for the winter and spring racing seasons are flooding out now as the sport begins to emerge from its turn-of-the-year hibernation. The Dubai Marathon goes off  tonight at 10 pm ET, while the Boston Marathon, London Marathon along with the New Balance Indoor Grand PrixMillrose Games and USATF National Cross Country Championships have recently released their talent-laden casts.  And just today Competitor Group announced double Olympic champion Mo Farah for their New Orleans Rock `n` Roll Half (with more top names to come, according to athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull.) Running afficionados are anxiously circling calendars and planning their travel and internet viewing accordingly.

At the same time, Entertainment Weekly posted an EXCLUSIVE story today informing us that the ABC reality series Dancing With the Stars has offered Lance Armstrong a spot on its upcoming spring season.  According to the EW story, Armstrong has declined the offer. That news comes on the heels of a similar story about troubled actress Lindsay Lohan who also turned down an appearance on DWTS (reportedly rejecting $550,000 in the process).

So, what’s the lesson here?

I had an email exchange with Millrose meet director Ray Flynn last week regarding the excellent fields that he’s put together for not only the showcase Wannamaker Mile, but for the Two Mile event, as well.  What I wanted to know was, “what needs to be done to gather interest beyond the athletics’ world bubble?  In other words, what are the stakes these athletes are racing for? Isn’t that the missing element when we try to engage the general public? Ok, a wonderful field has been assembled, but what’s the purpose of the race other than winning it? What’s the hook for those outside the sport?”

Ray replied: “The Millrose Games is in its 106th year. Having run it on six occasions, I am a big believer.  I think these kids like the idea of the big stage, we’ll set up a great race, and it’s good timing for them.  You may think I’m deflecting and that athletes only race for money. I don’t think so. They want to know that they will be part of something great! This will be a great race. The first time I got to race in Oslo, I would have slept on the floor.  All that mattered was that I had arrived on the big stage! It’s a show in the end.”

The key to that exchange was that Ray was still looking at his races through the eyes of an athlete; it’s what the races meant to them that counts. What I was wondering was what the races might mean to the public; why would they want to watch?
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BOB BRIGHT: AFTER 25 YEARS NOTHING HAS CHANGED

The following is a response to my last post TRACK ATHLETES IN SEARCH OF ALAN LADD which outlined the political wranglings at last weekend’s Aviva London Grand Prix where American runners Nick Symmonds and Lolo Jones were barred by meet director Ian Stewart for being “liabilities”.

Today’s responder is none other than legendary 1980s Chicago Marathon race director Bob Bright who helped steer what was then a regional-quality event into the deep waters of the marathon mainstream.

With the backing of Beatrice Foods sponsor money, Bright brought marathon recruitment to a new level of sophistication. After taking the helm in 1982, he was the first to scour the  European track circuit for marathon talent.  There Welshman Steve Jones caught Bright’s eye, and in 1983 Bright lured Jonesy to Chicago for a $1500 fee to try on the marathon for size. 

After a DNF caused by a run-in with a pothole past half-way, Jones returned in 1984 ready, willing, evidently able.  Avoiding all hazards of the Windy City roads Jonesy bested the reigning Olympic champion Carlos Lopes of Portugal and 1983 World Champion Rob de Castella of Australia by breaking the marathon world record (2:08:05). 

The next year Bright engineered the Joan Samuelson-Ingrid Kristiansen-Rosa Mota women’s battle that produced Joanie’s 18-year standing American record 2:21:21.

What follows is Bob’s recollection of the 1986 Chicago Marathon and his behind-the-scenes tangle with Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, at the time the women’s marathon record holder.  Evidently the more things change, the more they remain the same. 

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“Toni,  I read your last post with interest and it sparked memories of some long past shoot-outs.

After a 25 year walkabout, I have to agree with you, nothing has changed.  There appears to be zero leadership. With no leadership, meet directors become war lords. I liked the war part but never reached the lord status.

Meet directors cannot let athletes run over them, and athletes in some cases are vulnerable. A proper governing body would set standards, enforce rules and help solve problems similar to the recent London kerfuffle.  We will differ here; I would support the Ian Stewart position. Here is why and you might have some insight into this situation.

In the spring of 1986 I received a call from the Ingrid Kristiansen’s connections in Norway stating she wanted to try and break the marathon World Record in October. I flew to Oslo, met with Ingrid and her people for four hours in a bank with no lunch.  The deal:  a $40k appearance fee with travel and accommodations for five people. No Joanie, Rosa or any other heavy who would pressure Ingrid in the race. Just a greased skid where she could blast. The grease was $40K.

As October approached, I heard rumors from European contacts that she was slightly injured. I tried but couldn’t make contact with her coach or agent.  On Wednesday before the race her party (8 people) shows up.  They need rooms and travel money for the additional folks.  Ingrid hides in her room and sends her husband to collect her appearance fee. Not much luck with that stunt. The running gun-battle is launched. Alan Ladd has gone missing.  Lawyers, agents, hangers-on and journalists jump into the melee. I’m surrounded.

I have a slightly? injured athlete demanding her appearance money (not hiding but resting) and an agent representing IMG declaring she is under contract to wear a MAZDA racing singlet which will upstage a race sponsor.  Right there, I should have declared Ingrid a ‘LIABILITY’ and sent her packing.  Where was Ian Stewart when I needed him? (more…)

EMOTIONAL CONFORMATION

Elegance: Wilson Kipketer

How many times have you watched a race and thought, “Boy, was he/she born to run?”, thereby giving voice to the emotional power released by the human form in fully articulated flight.  Without knowing why or how, we all understand and appreciate at a visceral level the aesthetic that attends athletic excellence, an aesthetic which goes beyond simple results-oriented efficiency or effectiveness, and instead inhabits an expressive gestalt all its own.

We have all had our favorite such stylists.  One of mine was the great Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer, the former 800-meter world record holder whose rapier-like form cut so cleanly though the pliant pocket of air.  Another beauty was 1987 world 10,000-meter champion, the late Paul Kipkoech of Kenya, who I called “The Ambassador” for his carriage brought to mind white tie and tails, so elegant was his pure upright form.

Though athletes can improve form and function through plyometric drills and gym-work, most of how we generate force over distance comes from our physical conformation, how we are put together in this system of pulleys and levers via the hard and soft tissue of the body.

In the world of horse racing, millions of dollars are invested in the breeding for physical conformation.  But as the undervalued (purchased for $35,000) I’ll Have Another goes for the first Triple Crown title in 34 years at the Belmont Stakes next week, we are reminded again that more than physical conformation goes into the creation of a champion.  Beyond the talent of the form is the drive from the heart, the unquantifiable aspects of an athlete’s makeup which defy programmatic identification – think Tim Tebow in American football.

In an on-line blog about the Emotional Conformation in the equine athlete, an old, but not forgotten name from running’s past surfaced last fall in the comments section of Calvin Carter’s Classic Thoroughbred Champions. (more…)