New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Running

Grete Waitz

Grete Waitz  (Running.  Born, Oslo, Norway, Oct. 1, 1953; died, Oslo, Norway, April 19, 2011.)  When the New York City Marathon was run for the first time around Central Park, it was considered unusual for the time (1970) for women to be part of the entry field.  In fact, no woman finished that first race.  Historically, marathoning had been strictly a man’s world.  But even Fred Lebow and the other organizers of the New York City Marathon little thought at the time when they made what could be considered a timely, bold social statement that the New York City Marathon would eventually become virtually a one-woman showcase.  That woman turned out to be Grete Waitz, the great Norwegian who turned the Marathon into her own personal stage.  From her first victory in 1978, Waitz dominated the women’s field.  In 1978, Waitz, who had never before run a marathon, was clocked in a record 2:32:30.  She lowered the record to 2:27:33 in 1979 and cut it to 2:25:41 in 1980; nearly seven minutes off the clocking in three races.  Waitz missed in 1981 but then came back to win each of the next five years, giving her seven wins in eight years, and won a ninth time in 1988.  She also won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in the marathon.  At the time of her death, she was generally acclaimed as the greatest women’s distance runner ever.

Bill Rodgers

Bill Rodgers (Running.  Born, Hartford, CT, Dec. 23, 1947.)  William Rodgers was the right man in the right place at the right time for the history of the New York City Marathon.  When the Marathon moved out of Central Park and became a five-borough event in 1976, Rodgers not only won the event but set a record with a 2:10:09 clocking for the new course.  Rodgers’ 1976 victory started a string of four successive wins, during which the event which became a national television attraction.  Rodgers was also a marathoner of consequence in other major events, including the venerable Boston Marathon.  He won that event four times, beginning in 1975.  But it was New York that became the major stage for Rodgers and it was Rodgers’ performances and presence that, in turn, helped elevate the New York City Marathon, both as a sporting event and as a television attraction.

Johnny Hayes

Johnny Hayes (Running.  Born, New York, NY, Apr. 10, 1886; died, Englewood, NJ, Aug. 23, 1965.)  As a wiry 5’4” clerk at Bloomingdale’s, John Joseph Hayes was a dedicated runner attracted to marathons.  Hayes finished fifth in the 1906 Boston Marathon, moved up to third in 1907, and when the Yonkers Marathon was run for the first time later that year, he won it.  He then set his sights on the London Olympics of 1908, the first ever run at the now-standard 26.2 miles (changed so the race could pass in front of Buckingham Palace; prior Olympic marathons had been 25 miles).  Hayes became the gold medal winner when Italy’s Dorando Pietri collapsed and was carried over the finish line.  In the ensuing controversy, Dorando (as he was known) was disqualified and Hayes declared the winner.  Thanks to the controversy, Hayes and Dorando were matched in a series of races in the U.S., four of them in 1908-09.  They both went pro for the series, Hayes leaving Bloomingdale’s (where he had become the head of sporting goods).  Two of the races were held in Madison Square Garden (Nov. 25, 1908, and Mar. 5, 1909) amid great excitement and press coverage.  Dorando won both.  Hayes ran regularly as a pro until 1912, when he coached the U.S. marathon squad that included four of the first eight finishers in Stockholm.  He coached cross-country at Columbia (1917-18).  Hayes was the last American to win the marathon until Frank Shorter did it in 1972 at Munich.

Fred Lebow

Fred Lebow (Running. Born, Transylvania, Rumania, June 3, 1932; died, New York, NY, Oct. 9, 1994.) Few individuals can claim to be virtually the single-handed inspiration for national interest by millions of Americans in anything. Fred Lebow is perhaps unique in that he has done it twice. As a member of the Central Park runners groups in the 1960s, Lebow conceived the idea of the New York City Marathon. Its popularity through national television exposure triggered an astonishing surge in marathon running throughout the nation. Lebow’s courageous battle again cancer inspired a 1990 national campaign, “Stop Cancer,” to raise funds for cancer research. Lebow’s first New York City Marathon was run in 1970 and the first six were run entirely within Central Park. In 1976, the Marathon took on an entirely different character. That year, it became an all-borough event, starting in Staten Island and finishing in Central Park. Since then, the Marathon has become an event attracting millions of New Yorkers along its route and tens of millions of Americans via television. Its field of runners has grown to almost 40,000, one of the largest such events in the world. Lebow also founded the Fifth Avenue Mile (1981) and the Empire State Building Run-up. He also actively campaigned to bring world championship cross-country and track events to New York. In addition, he founded the New York Games, a world-class track meet, begun in 1989, that lasted four years. He was president of the New York Road Runners Club from 1972 until his death.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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