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New track boss? Here's your woman.

Fans jammed Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. for the recent track and field Olympic trials that featured such athletes as long jumper Miguel Pate.
USA Track and Field seems to be getting nowhere fast in finding a replacement for Chief Executive Craig Masback, who left the job six months ago.

Now the federation's volunteer leadership faces additional pressure from the U.S. Olympic Committee to shrink its number of board members from about six million to the more workable number of, say, nine, just as the USOC did to its management structure four years ago.

I can save USATF a lot of time on the CEO issue. (I have a track record on this sort of thing.  Two months ago in "Globetrotting: A worldly view of sports" I advised U.S. Figure Skating to stop spending time and money on site searches for its 2010 national championship host city and award the thing to Spokane -- which they did.)

So this is my advice to USA Track and Field:

Offer the CEO job to Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners and race director of The ING New York City Marathon.

Mary Wittenberg, chief executive officer of the ING NYC Marathon and the New York Road Runners. I'm not sure Mary wants the job.  The Road Runners are a bigger organization with a bigger budget than USATF.  She may not want to leave New York City for Indianapolis (but she has a small-city roots in Buffalo).

I listened to Mary give what she insisted was not a campaign speech (even though it could have been) over lunch last week during  the Olympic track and field trials. I walked away thinking USATF would be ever so lucky if it could figure out a way to lure her.  (No reason, with modern communications, she couldn't do the job essentially from New York.)

Mary talked about trying to make the sport a cohesive whole rather than a series of fragmented parts.  She comes from the part, road running, with the demographic that sponsors crave (middle-aged folks with money). But she is just as excited about finding a way to capitalize on the part of the sport, high school track and field, that  keeps attracting high numbers of participants.

During the track and field Olympic trials in Eugene, where a runners' high also applied to the crowds, it was easy to get carried away by the sport's potential, and Mary did just that when she spoke of track becoming a national pastime.  That sort of projection is exactly what  helped make soccer's leaders look silly for years -- and provided an easy punch line for Neanderthal sports writers who still make jokes about soccer, even though the sport clearly has established a solid niche on the U.S. scene.

(ABC got a 3.1 rating for its Sunday midday telecast of the European Championship final; few college basketball or college football or baseball games do that well.)

I'll forgive Mary for that excess, since she is a passionate runner who spoke from her heart.  She is also a Notre Dame-trained attorney, an Olympic trials marathon qualifier and one-time coxswain of the men's crew at Canisius College.

On top of that, the U.S. Olympic movement is shamefully lacking in women and minorities at the top of its federations.  Only two of the 39 U.S. governing bodies in Olympic sports, diving and fencing, have female chief executives.

So, USA Track & Field, your search is over.

--Philip Hersh

Photo: Fans jammed Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. for the recent track and field Olympic trials that featured such athletes as long jumper Miguel Pate. Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Photo: Mary Wittenberg, chief executive officer of the ING NYC Marathon and the New York Road Runners. Credit: New York Road Runners

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Comments (5)

That would be a huge blunder!! Where's her international athletics experience?

It actually could work. But knowing Mary and what a good person she is at heart, I do not envy her. She is going to have to deal with a lot of entrenched idiots and their nonsense. The USATF has to clearly understand that success is not the increase in medals or improvement in performances, but the increased market penetration and development of the sport.

What makes you think the nyrr is such a well run organization? They have grown despite incompetence at the highest levels....USAT&F and Mary are not a good fit.


You've read my mind. I've been thinking the same thing since the day Masback left. If she's not a top contender for the job, I don't know who would be a better leader.

Also, I've seen a lot of world class events in a lot of sports and con honestly say I've never seen anything so throughly well-run as the NYC marathon is today.

I think Mary would be great, I think she is a good ambassador for the sport, I just cannot believe she would want the job. But if she would take it, the USATF would be crazy not to take her.


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