Running toward the future, 100 young athletes from New York Road Runners youth programs were at center stage yesterday in Times Square, participating in an exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the International Association of Athletics Federations and a century of track-and-field excellence around the globe.
“I am very happy to be here today in one of the world’s most famous places: Times Square, New York,” said IAAF President Lamine Diack in remarks that opened the festivities amid the lights of Broadway. “It is a privilege to be part of this youthful and inspiring project … What could be more symbolic than 100 children, 100 meters, 100 years?”
Most of the young runners were 10- to-14-year-olds from NYRR youth programs, joined by the 7- and 8-year-old finalists in the adidas Fastest Kids sprint that will take place at Saturday’s adidas Grand Prix meet at Icahn Stadium.
“It’s a fabulous day for running in New York,” said Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, after cheering for the young runners under sunny skies on National Running Day. “It’s great to see running in the center of the universe, Times Square, and wonderful to see so many organizations—IAAF, USOC, USATF, Global Athletics & Marketing, NYRR—coming together to promote the sport.”
Global Athletics & Marketing produces the adidas Grand Prix, now in its eighth year as a world-class track and field event. It is one of 14 meets on the international Samsung Diamond League circuit.
Also in celebration of National Running Day, 2,500 youngsters from NYRR’s Mighty Milers program gathered at Icahn Stadium for a morning of running events and other activities.
Before the Times Square relay began, the children gathered around Diack and surprised him with a serenade of “Happy Birthday.” He will turn 79 on Thursday.
Then, led by Tirunesh Dibaba, the double 2008 Olympic gold medalist, and Desiree Davila, a 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon team member, the young runners divided up for a relay along a section of Broadway, its blue pavement lined with tape to transform it into an eight-lane sprint runway. With Diack serving as official starter, the exhibition began shortly after 1 p.m. as passersby took a break from their busy lunch hour to watch.
President Diack smiled as the children ran. “This is a very special moment for me,” he said afterward, “because the future of our sport is these kids.”
In his remarks, Diack also announced the names of the three latest U.S. athletes set for induction to the IAAF Hall of Fame: Olympic gold medalists Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, Michael Johnson, and Dan O’Brien.
O’Brien, the 1996 Olympic decathlon champion who was present to emcee the races, said he was honored. “I feel absolutely blessed,” he said.
Earlier, he had congratulated the young runners on their good fortune.
“This is something you’ll be able to tell your friends about, that you ran in Times Square,” he said. “I never got to run in Times Square.”
“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