October 28, 2009
MARY WITTENBERG: Good afternoon, everybody. We welcome all of you to Tavern on the Green this afternoon. And we welcome our viewers of our live video stream. Today we're going to take a little breath. We've been looking forward all week long to Sunday, and to the 40th running and the 2009 ING New York City Marathon.
And this afternoon we want to take time to honor on our incredibly rich history that has enabled us to be able to look forward to one of the world's greatest sports and entertainment spectacles in the world this coming Sunday.
So today, first, I'd like to begin not only on the stage, but in the audience. Today we have many familiar faces who have been a big part of our important history here. I'd like to begin with somebody very much engaged and are present, our chairman of the board George Hirsch who will be running the race on Sunday. And he will be accompanied by two of our marathoners of the decades, and we'll get to that as we go on in a few moments.
I'd like to welcome our long time race director and long time president and C.E.O. luminary in the sport well beyond New York Road Runners, Allen Steinfeld.
I'd like to welcome a gentleman who was timing from the beginning and has seen most everyone of these races, a statistician otherwise, Walt Murphy. To his right, one of the pioneers in our sport, especially here in New York he city, and getting women running, Elizabeth Phillips.
Right behind her, of course, the woman who made women's running famous, certainly at the marathon distance, Kathrine Switzer. And I'd like to welcome Bill Rudin, of course, whose family was the first sponsor of the 1976 Marathon and helped to make that important race happen.
And at the risk of missing others, rumor has it one of our most esteemed journalists for many years, is Frank Litsky here? There you are, Frank. Welcome Frank Litsky. And, of course, Andy Wolford, Peter Gambacini and so many of you that have covered us for many of these years, we welcome you to this special event.
Now before we get to the marathoners of the decade. I want to talk about an award we give every single year. That is the Abebe Bikila Award. We'll give it Saturday morning at the Continental Airline International Friendship Run.
It's an award that means a lot to all of us here at New York Road Runners. It's named after great men in running, Abebe Bikila, and it won't surprise you that the idea every year is to celebrate somebody who has made a true distinct and major difference in the sport of running.
What I'd like to do today is usually we inform our winner in advance, and today we're going to surprise our winner. This winner is one who is particularly fitting for us in our 40th running this year. So I'd like to ask Grete to come up and share with the audience who the winner of the 2009 Abebe Bikila Award will be.
GRETE WAITZ: I don't have an envelope, but the recipient of the Abebe Bikila award is a very good friend of mine. And I've known him for more than 30 years. Allan you are the only person in this room I've known for such a long time, except for Jack. So I'm very happy to let everybody know that you are the recipient of the Abebe Bikila Award 2009. And it's well deserved.
We all know that Fred Lebow could not pull off this marathon if it wasn't for him having Allan at his side. Fred was the one with all the crazy ideas, Allan was the one who told him, Fred, we can't do that. We can't do that. We can possibly do that. Together they were a great team.
But this marathon would never have been the marathon it is today if it wasn't for Allan and his work and his specialty, you know, doing all the statistics, the race, the timing.
I remember the year I ran with Fred when there was a false start. The first thing he did was calling Allan, and Allan calmed him down and said he had everything under control. And this race we are happy to have you build this race. And I'm very happy that you are going to get the Abebe Bikila Award on Saturday morning, and, hopefully, I will be the one to give it to you. Thank you.
MARY WITTENBERG: You thank you so much, Grete. And I'll add that on our team at New York Road Runners couldn't do what we do today without having gotten the greatest start you could ever get with Allan. And as you know well beyond New York Road Runners, we like to call him our own, but you've had such major, major impact in this sport nation and worldwide, and we keep trying to fill your footsteps every day.
So Allan, why don't you come up. Do you want to say a few words.
ALLAN STEINFELD: Thank you, Grete. Thank you, Mary. To say I'm overwhelmed is an understatement. Fred and I created this award back in the '70s, and its purpose was to present it to great athletes. I don't think a 3:27 marathon counts as a great athlete. I did make an exception. I think my mind is going a bit, that I believe in '94 we gave it to Fred posthumously because he certainly deserved it. And in 2001, the man that helped raise our city out of the smoke of 9/11 Rudolph Guiliani got it.
I am not like those people, but I am truly honored and humbled by this award. And I guess they couldn't find anybody else so they gave it to me.
MARY WITTENBERG: That is so not true. And I want you to know that we actually have talked about this each of the last three years, and we decided the year we gave it to you had to be a year of great significance. So, hence, we're smart not to wait till 50, but hence the 40th running. I hope you're available Saturday morning.
Okay, thank you Allan. Thank you, Grete. And today we get to celebrate our marathoners of the decade. We've thanked several of you.
We've had a panel of journalists and a couple of us at New York Road Runners who got to vote on the marathoners of the decade. And, you know, it's fascinating. Some years some decades are easy, maybe one or two. But then it got pretty hard, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
As I said before, we tend to focus in New York about going forward. But every time we go to Boston we realize you know what, our history is getting pretty deep here, too, with 40 years.
So today some of the legends that have made up that rich history certainly I'll begin with the 1970's, and say that Bill Rodgers is expected here. So we'll find out where Billy is. This would be his chair. We hope to hear. Billy is flying in. Obviously, the rain is giving us some trouble today. So hopefully he'll be here. But whoever thought that a man who so represents Boston would be such a huge splash and come to mean a lot in New York City.
And then Miki Gorman was the woman's winner. In the 1980's, on the men's side, the great Alberto Salazar and Alberto has been traveling so much we specifically said to Alberto this is something you don't have to come to. You just have to accept the award, and he was very pleased to do so.
But who would have ever thought that anybody would win this race nine times -- but also as Bill Rudin said in a lunch we were just in -- who ever would have thought that a Norwegian name would become synonymous with New York. The great Grete Waitz.
Our '90s, we have both champions here. Allan remembers them well because their first victories were in 1994, his first year as race director after Fred had just passed away. Who would think that one wrong way turn would make German Silva even more famous than winning the race itself could have. German Silva, who again remains a big part of the present racing.
Next, I remember this day and this athlete so well. At the time who would ever think that such a person of small body could smash through such a big heavy, heavy door and pave the way for so many behind her, Tegla Loroupe.
2000, this was, you know, we're almost at the end of this decade. And we've got another year ahead, but we've had enough years to call our marathoners of the decade, and it was quite interesting. On the women's side, she'll be here tonight, actually she should be arriving any moment. Paula Radcliffe. And on the men's side an athlete that proves that New York makes stars, and that was the first time. Now as he comes back here as a two-time winner and defending champion, has turned the tables and he's making New York that much more significant this year. We welcome Marilson Gomes dos Santos.
You know the athletes well, hence not long introductions. But we do want to take he a moment to reflect and ask you all to join us in watching a video.
MARY WITTENBERG: That would be called the wrong video. We'll look forward to figuring out what happened. And certainly Online will have the right video, and he hopefully we show it again. So apologies for that.
I just want to share with everybody what each of the marathoners of the decade will receive. With their name and the decade, in celebration of the 40th running from Tiffany, these very special awards. So I'm going to hand it over to Richard so all of you can ask questions. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. I, again, apologize for the video. We're going to ask each of on our five marathoners of the decade as to say a couple of words to begin with, and then we'll open it up for questions. Grete?
GRETE WAITZ: Okay. I don't know if I need this one, but I probably do. Well, of course it's a great honor and a pleasure to be awarded the Marathoner of the Decade.
And looking back to 1980s, which one of them would I remember the most? Probably the one in 1984 where it was a very warm he day. You saw the two, of course, everybody suffered from the heat and humidity. But never in the race have you seen the two first men walking crossing the finish line and end up winning the New York City Marathon and coming in second. That was Pizzolato and Murphy. Whenever I see a video of that race, it's just amazing that it was a tremendous unexpected weather. For me it was another great race, and another victory. I was just looking forward to the next New York City Marathon.
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Bill. Bill got here a few minutes late because of the weather. Welcome.
BILL RODGERS: Thanks, great to be here. And to celebrate marathoners of the decade. I'm glad to be one of those with fellow champions here and everyone who has been involved building the New York City Marathon over so many years, 40 years, it's just incredible.
But I think it's tough for Grete. She won nine times. That's really insane, you know. But for me I actually I don't know. Picking one race, I guess it would be the five borough the first time. But I remember my first time I swung around the New York City Marathon, it was four laps through Central Park. It was very tough. That was the old days of the marathon.
But '76 became the new days and the marathon was reborn. All the great runners and all the runners, so many over so many years. I don't know, I'm sure someone has a tally of how many have done the New York City Marathon.
But it's always exciting to me. I think that's why we all do this race. You know, it's the intensity of it. And we all love it, I think, with the same passion. But I'm looking forward to maybe going part of the race. Little older these days, but great to be back.
THE MODERATOR: When Bill says he's going to go part of the race, he's going to be running part of it with George Hirsch who will be running the entire race once again. To answer your question, we probably have close to 800,000 finishers by Sunday in the 40 years of the marathon.
TEGLA LOROUPE: It's always nice to be in New York. For me when I met Mary last month in the UK, and she said you're coming to New York. I said, Mary, I'm not running. But she did not want to tell me there was something special that I would be among the winners. And someone then called me, well, you are honored.
For me, it was a challenge because there were so many good runners that they should be here. But thank you so much for this special honor that you have given all of us. And for me to sit close to Grete Waitz, someone who ran and won nine times, so she was my hero.
I remember 1994 when I came here, I was not expecting to win the marathon. The day before I was doing shopping while other people are sleeping. I didn't have any pressure. But I was thinking that, oh, I'll try to be 8 or number 10, I would be happy to be among the runners in New York.
It's always nice, because New York people give opportunities to the newcomers. And here is the place I met my win, and open the doors for African women.
I just want to say the organizers thank you so much. And always it's nice to be here. Thank you.
GERMAN SILVA: Well, before anything, thank you very, very much Mary for this. About my winning in 1994. I just have to thank my wrong way.
And, you know, it's just so exciting and fantastic to be a member of this group of athletes. It's not a group. It's the legends, Bill, Miki, which is not here, Grete of course, now in the 2000s, it's not here yet, but it's coming later, the world record holder.
Well, it's just great to be a member of this selective group of athletes that is not -- they just not have given something to the world in running, but more than that. And that makes me feel honored because running is something that give back to people.
And my experience is so much more than just doing sports, and the New York Marathon is more than a marathon for me. I consider the marathon is not just for what you I get back from running since I start in my village and all that. But just to be a member and to make so many friends since the first time I was here, that I'm sure I still have to run many, many, many kilometers and I would not payback what I get.
But thanks God, and I have it was also a very nice and exciting day because the Abebe Bikila Award to Allan. Congratulations, Allan. I remember you coming that one time couple of years ago, five years ago, to Mexico. And we visit together the volcano which made me win here. It was a nice time. Well, so many moments, but thank you very much, and I am so glad.
THE MODERATOR: German, you are running, too, this Sunday? You are running with George?
GERMAN SILVA: Yes, I am running with George. We already did our long run in Chicago. It was only a long run. So hopefully on Sunday we will only run 26.2. No more than 26.2; okay.
THE MODERATOR: If anybody else wants to run with George, just talk to George. He'll welcome everybody. Marilson?
MARILSON GOMES dos SANTOS: It's a pleasure to be here with you today. I'm very happy to return to this competition. I want to thank the organization committee for that. Some things that happen in our lives are really funny. A few years ago when I didn't even think about participating in the marathon, I had the opportunity to see on TV then me winning two marathons in New York.
And I imagined I saw myself winning marathons in New York, and that came to happen in New York and the right to be here at the most charming marathon of all. And when people ask me, I always answer that if you haven't run a marathon in New York yet, you don't know what running a marathon is. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the athletes.
Q. Bill, about '76, it was kind of a great social experiment to have an urban marathon rather than a rural one at that time. And it wasn't the best epic for New York City. Frank made some famous comment like I only came to see how many people got mugged on or whatever that comment was. Do you remember what it was like as a social experiment? What did you expect as you took off? What did you see down the road in front of you? Did you come close to getting mugged?
BILL RODGERS: No. I didn't have any feelings like that at all. I think Frank was just commenting about the big change that was happening in the sport in a way and to run through the city streets and everything.
But for me it was more just a comeback, because I had run terribly in the Olympic games. It was a chance, no one really knew. I don't know, maybe some people did, could look at it how the race he involved. But just for me as an athlete, it was just going out there and trying to go for the win. That's what we all try to do. This is in our minds always. This is how we think.
If we had to run over a city bus, then we had to run over a city bus. We ran up some stairs, right, George?
But that's marathoning and road racing, and, German, you took a little detour. I remember that. So we had had these strange experiences, all of us did up here. But I think maybe it was a grand experiment though.
So there was some nervousness, I think. Everyone thought it was a huge race. '76, 2000 runners. And now it's a pretty small run. You know. But it was a great thrill. I still remember every single part of the race. Everything about the day, and every time I run the New York City Marathon.
Q. Do you remember anything about the spectators, the neighborhoods, the ethnic groups all of that stuff was new then?
BILL RODGERS: Yeah, I do. I remember coming over the bridge and talking, my friend Tom Fleming who is a two-time winner in the park and everything, about what a spectacular experience this is just to run the bridge, what set it up for me. And I was very wired from that moment on.
But I could see there were some people taking it out, and I just tried to watch my pace. It was a beautiful day to run. But running through the city was a unique experience, because I really didn't know New York City really well. But I loved running through the city.
I think we all feel that way up here -- oh, you haven't heard anything I've said. It was a great feeling (laughing). Words of wisdom, right? He probably heard me.
But it was a thrill that day. I do remember coming into the park and coming over the queens borough bridge, powerful, powerful feeling. For me that was always the epical part of the race when you really started to think about racing and going forward and that sort of thing. We've all done that.
But a dangerous thing, too. But I loved coming into Central Park. I like those rolling hills, you know, where you can really -- on there is a lot of strategy there. We all used it to our advantage or we wouldn't be here. So we were very lucky, too.
You know, I second what German says about how we were all lucky, us runners here, because the chances the way that we came here. We all had a different path here.
Definitely a thrill, and I'm looking forward to this Sunday running with George. I'm very excited to do even, you know, 5 miles of the race. I'm not really a marathoner anymore. I'm a retired marathoner, but it's always fun to run in New York, and to run through Central Park. And it will be an honor to run with George, because I admire what he's done over all the years.
Q. The finish line situation in that first one you won was a little unusual, wasn't it? The crowd really sort of almost like reached out and touched you and more than that, didn't they?
BILL RODGERS: It was very exciting going through the park because I really wasn't quite sure where I was going though. And there was a fellow next to me on the bike, and I was saying how much further, how much further? But you know, I knew I was on a pretty good pace because I think we had gone through the half in just under 1:04.
Then I think I saw the clock up ahead. I had the American record at the time, I wasn't too far off it. But I just wanted to win. I just wanted to go for the win.
It was exciting. It was exciting to cross that line, you know, and go up there and the mayor of New York was there. It's priceless. It is a priceless feeling.
Yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday. I think we all do. It's a momentous race, and it leaves a mark on you. There is no question about it. Even the ones where we got beaten. I don't think Grete hardly ever got beaten.
Q. After while, people really did start to come to challenge you and figure maybe they could knock you off. And I know that I don't know whether it was the 7th or 8th or 9th on or whatever. But people like Lisa Martin, and Laura came in and thought they had a shot at beating you. Were you always confident even the 7th, 8th, and 9th times that you were going to be able to handle these people?
GRETE WAITZ: No, I was never confident. Not the first time, not even the second or the third. I always expected somebody who I never heard of would come up and beat me like I had surprised everybody in 1978. I was always expecting another Grete later in the years of the a runner that nobody had heard of to come and run very fast.
Of course in the late '80s, there were more and more women running, and the competition got tougher and tougher. But I was always very insecure, but I really wanted to win, and was determined to win.
But listening to Bill here, I'll have to say I ran the marathon two years after in 1978. For me it was the first road race ever. The spectators, you know, I couldn't believe this race. First of all, I never knew about the five boroughs, I never knew where I was on the course. So when we ran through where all the Orthodox Jews are, yeah, I remember after the race I said, you know, "Is it a holiday? Why are people dressed up? They were wearing costumes." I'd never seen people like that before. And I was asking myself, well, that's strange.
But, you know, I saw a lot of strange things the first time. I saw people in clogs at the starting line who were running in clogs. I saw people that I would never think could run 26 miles, all shapes and sizes.
So for me it was an eye opener of what this race can offer people of all nationalities and, of course I was determined never to come back, but we all know that Greg talked me into coming back in 1979.
But in '78 I also have to say running that race and seeing the race today it's unbelievable how this race has grown. But also how professional it is run. It's unbelievable how smoothly everything goes with the 40,000 plus people. So my hat's off to everybody that is participating in pulling this race off. It's fantastic.
I thought it was great in 1978, but, of course, it was less people. I think 13,000. 9,000 oh, okay. But I was impressed by the organization already then. But now they have come a long way.
Q. You and Bill again, obviously with Marilson, and even German and Tegla, the crowds were large but they're behind barriers now. Back in the old days it was more Tour de France. People were right there. Did you prefer it when it's a little bit more wild out on the streets when the crowd was right up on you?
GRETE WAITZ: I kind of liked it coming off the Queensboro Bridge running on off first avenue. For me that was, as a runner, it was a feeling of running downhill with tail wind all those people, you know, cheering you on. They were close to you.
But I never had had the problem to stay focused. I was always focused. But it was a nice feeling, you know, coming, and especially being the first woman. But then, of course, First Avenue doesn't go on forever. And then you are kind of entering what I call no-man's land where it's kind of quiet. That is the tough part of the race until you hit the park and you know that you're almost home.
BILL RODGERS: You know, I think that's a really good question. Because I think the fans, the spectators, whatever we call them, play such a huge role in our sport. And I think some people respond to that more than some others, you know. But I really, I love that feeling myself. I think it's one -- the spectators here are fairly unique, you know. That drive, I love that feeling of coming on off the bridge and people being right on you and cheering for you. That's huge. You can't beat that feeling. That's a secret weapon (laughing).
So there is something powerful. And sometimes I watch the race now and I see it on TV and I see these guys coming down the straightaway, and it looks kind of like a crueler place a little bit because fans are back a little farther. It seems almost like it's harder for the runners today. I watch that and I think whew, these guys are really tough today. I don't know.
THE MODERATOR: German or Tegla, would you like to talk about the crowds and what it's like out there running?
TEGLA LOROUPE: For me I think I like the crowd because you don't run alone. Sometimes a marathon is a long way. You tend to sleep when you get tired so your brain comes down.
In 1994 the last 7 kilometers I was very close, and because of the crowd, I was able to overtake the other ladies. The crowd gave me a lot of strength. And I can say without the crowd our races cannot be a race.
You can see the value of New York at the marathons. The crowds want the race to be very special. And many people don't run alone, there are people supporting them. Congratulations for having second.
GERMAN SILVA: Just like Bill says. I just think that a race without crowds is -- especially a marathon without is also like the new marathon, you know, just First Avenue I think it's the spectators. But the marathon without crowds is a minutes of difference, either minutes faster or minutes longer because you block yourself. It doesn't matter because at the end it's so great.
I remember one of my biggest races I ran back in my hometown Costa Rica, it was a lot of crowds. No fence like now in the big marathons. But it's also exciting. I'm sure it's the same way like in New York before, you know, there was no fence and the crowds are there just as closer as exciting as it is and it makes it faster.
Just from the start to the finish in my experience I just wanted to say I have run almost every marathon here, and the crowds and the excitement from all the runners from the start and all the way, it's only one mile, a lonely mile before First Avenue. But still it's enjoyable. I mean, the crowds make the difference.
MARILSON GOMES dos SANTOS: To me the marathon in New York differentiates from all the other ones because of the public, the spectators. They really are there with us. That's what is important for us, because when you get tired and you're fading away, you get so stimulated by everyone that you get encouraged and go on.
Q. I'd just like to ask Bill what chance do you give of an American victory maybe on Sunday? And if not this time, how much would it mean to you one day soon to see a U.S. home runner win the New York City Marathon?
BILL RODGERS: You know, the Americans are knocking on the door very clearly. You know, when you take a look at the sport internationally and all the countries in the world, and you take a look at the competitions and everything here and there and around the world. And the up and coming Americans and some of them are very experienced. But you see the new talent coming up, too. So that's very exciting, I think for the American runners.
I think globally many, many top races are in the United States, so I think it adds a tremendous amount of excitement to the sport. I think it does for runners from all countries, you know. So he I think that's going to -- the ante has been upped, I think, a little bit this year.
George, calm down. George is a tough competitor though. But it makes me excited. I'm only running five miles, but even it makes me excited.
I take my hat off to all these young runners today, because I think the marathon world today is so much more challenging. It was hard in our era, it was challenging a little bit. But the younger runners here and people like George, we've been around a long time. We've seen this change.
But I think the new young runners are very unique, you know. They're aiming high. The great runners of the world, that's our sport though. That's what I love about our sport is that it is international. We're like soccer, the two international sports. I just wish that it was more recognized in the United States, you know, by the sports media. And how hard it is to excel under those circumstances, I think. It's a very challenging sport. But it's going to be fun to watch the race, and the champions will be the champions whatever country they come from.
Q. What chance a U.S. winner on Sunday in your opinion?
BILL RODGERS: What chance? Oh, yeah, yeah, there is pretty good depth. I would add one more runner to the mix though, if I was a coach. But I think it will be very exciting.
But it's such a strong field, and the New York Runners Club has put together a strong field on the men's side and the women's. So it always is a great challenge, I think. It's gotten much more severe to win these days. I don't know. Hard to answer that question. I will be watching though. We all will.
GRETE WAITZ: I think it means a lot for the American runners to see elite Americans be competitive in big marathons. On the women's side I think Kara Goucher is very inspiring for other upcoming young runners to see that it is possible to compete, you know, with Africans, Japanese, the Koreans. The fact that she placed third here last year, if I'm not mistaken. Wasn't it third, yeah? And also ran well in Boston, you know. She participated in the World Championships, didn't have a specifically good race there.
But her races and the fact that she came in third here in New York last year has meant a lot. Of course, we all cross our fingers for Ryan Hall on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to have each of our five marathoners of the decade available in the back. First we'd like to as we close we want to present them with a little award. A token of our appreciation. Also as we close I'd like to make sure that we recognize two other people of our present, our future, and our past.
That's Ian Brooks, the voice of New York Road Runners for so many years. And the voice on Sunday who will be calling the race on WNBC from 9:00 to 5:00 along with Al Trautwig, our good friend from the West coast, Toni Reavis.
We'll keep these five for a moment up here. Again, we thank everybody for joining us. We're back here tomorrow at 10:30 on for the formal part of the press conference tomorrow.
End of FastScripts