Frank Litsky, who will be honored on Friday morning by New York Road Runners with the 2013 George Hirsch Journalism Award, began as a sports copy editor at the New York Times in 1958 and left more than 50 years later as one of the most-respected track-and-field writers in the country. See the full press release here. To mark his day of honor, we asked Litsky, 87, to name his top five moments in ING New York City Marathon history.
1994: German Silva and Benjamin Paredes, two Mexicans who trained together, were far ahead as they ran together out of Central Park onto Central Park South toward Columbus Circle. With seven-tenths of a mile left in the race, the photographers’ truck headed into the park again and Silva followed it. Paredes saw a police officer pointing them toward Columbus Circle, and he went that way. A dozen strides into the park, Silva realized that he had gone the wrong way and retraced his steps. Meanwhile, Paredes, unsure for the moment what was happening, slowed a bit, but by the time they both knew where they should be going, Silva had lost 40 yards. Somehow, he made them up to catch his friend and beat him by two seconds.
1994: Tegla Loroupe, one of 25 children of the same Kenyan father, was running her first marathon. At 5 feet and maybe 85 pounds, she looked frail enough to be blown away by a wind gust. Instead, she won by two and a half minutes in 2:27:37 and set out on a career in which she was a dominant runner for many years and is still an international ambassador for the sport.
1983: Geoff Smith was a world-class marathoner from England and Rod Dixon a world-class miler from New Zealand. When they reached First Avenue, Smith was on world-record pace, but Dixon, at one point two and a half minutes behind, caught him through the wind and rain after 26 miles and beat him by nine seconds. Then, in a gesture common now, Dixon dropped to his knees and kissed the road.
2007: Alex Zanardi of Italy was a Formula One race-car driver and a four-time champion in the American CART series. In 2001, he lost both legs in a race-car accident, but the athlete in him never quit. With only four weeks of training, he raced his first marathon with a hand-cycle and finished fourth. Afterward, he told me proudly, “I’m not demolished.”
1992: My most memorable moment of all. Far back in the pack, two legends of the New York City Marathon ran and often walked together. One was Fred Lebow, the madcap visionary who had turned this Central Park race into a worldwide gem. He always wanted to run it himself, but he was too busy as the boss. Now he was 60 and slowed by brain cancer, and he would die in two years. His running partner that day was his good friend Grete Waitz, the Norwegian woman who had won New York nine times but now, at 39, was a former marathon runner (she would die of cancer in 2011). As she said after the race, “We both ran the last two miles crying.” Their time was 5:32:35, more than three hours slower than Grete’s New York best, but time hardly mattered that day.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg