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October 29, 2008

Rod Dixon

Mary Wittenberg


RICHARD FINN: We're going to have our next special guest come up, Rod Dixon.
MARY WITTENBERG: Next up is part of our 50th anniversary of New York Roadrunners, we were able to look, review our millions of moments and highs throughout the history of the organization, and we were able to narrow down those very best moments to 100 and then provided the opportunity to an esteemed group of journalists, limit that group, narrow that group of moments to 15, and then we went to a fan vote to select the top five moments in New York Roadrunner history.
It was no surprise at all to any of us that this moment that we're going to celebrate today would be on the short list. When I think back to 1983 and the finish line shot of the then-New York City Marathon, it's a race I remember. It was the first New York City Marathon I had ever seen. I was sitting in Buffalo, New York, watching on national television, and people around the nation beyond saw this moment.
This finish line shot has become one of our iconic images of the marathon, and the race was one of the races that made New York known for our fabulous finishes.
And we'll see in a moment, the image of Rod Dixon standing just past the finish line elated in victory, his arms held high in triumph, with the exhausted Jeff Smith sprawled behind him, is one that sticks in the minds of many of us and will forever be one of the best images, one of the most evocative and telling images of the history of this race.
I'm honored to present on behalf of New York Roadrunners this famous moment voted among the millions of moments No. 3 on the list of our organization's greatest. Let's remember.
(Video shown.)
MARY WITTENBERG: I hope our top Americans that are coming up here next saw that because nothing can motivate you better to win that race than to see that video.
Rod, welcome back. We celebrate not only the past today with Rod here, we celebrate the present, as on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of that great win, Rod is here to run the race with his daughter Emma. We welcome you back. Thoughts on that spectacular finish and thoughts going into running this Sunday?
ROD DIXON: Well, it certainly is. First of all, of course, it's a privilege to be here, and anybody who wins the New York City Marathon, believe me, it is a privilege, this city's privilege rather than yours.
And thank you, Mary, and thank you, everybody, for the wonderful support, and I can tell you in 25 years, it has been worth every effort that I ever made. When I look back and I see the Achilles people here, I was the first patron of Achilles in New Zealand. I also took back Special Olympics to New Zealand and Team in Training to New Zealand, so it's been a privilege to be there. And the status that I gained from winning the New York City Marathon has allowed me to help other programs and other people, and that has certainly -- we have a kids' marathon program going where we're getting young kids into just exercising and understanding that oxygen and nutrition and water equals energy, and kids today don't figure that out.
So it certainly is a privilege, and I would like to just ask Mary to come back up. I've got a little something for Mary.
(Photo presented to Mary.)
ROD DIXON: This is a painting from a very famous New Zealand artist who did this painting for me so I had something for the rest of my life, and now I'm going to share it. This is a limited edition numeric. I will give you a certificate of authentication. I don't want to see it on eBay tomorrow. You have to wait until I'm 100.
MARY WITTENBERG: On behalf of George Hirsch and all of us in New York Roadrunners, we accept. We have some big aspirations in the coming years to build a running center here in New York City, and I promise you not only will it be in our home this year, but in the future wherever we go, you can count on this being very much a part of our future, as well. So thank you. This is spectacular.
RICHARD FINN: Again, Rod will be available afterwards for as many questions and answers and also photos, but any questions from the floor right now, we'll take a few.

Q. I noticed, I was reminded watching that you ran towards the end quite a bit over to Jeff's right. Was it you were trying to run the shortest tangents? Were you trying to surprise him? Or a combination of the two?
ROD DIXON: Well, it's a very good combination. Good assessment. Certainly I realized that the math wasn't working out for about 23 miles. I wasn't going fast enough and Jeff wasn't slowing down enough, so I realized that he was running in the center of the road. And I knew that as a track runner if you run in lane 2 for 5,000 meters, you are running about 20 yards further. Not so much that I was saving time, it's I don't have to run it, and I think in the end, it's a plus and minus.
And I started to realize as every corner was giving me two or three yards or meters, and over 40 corners that was going to give me a significant amount that I didn't have to run. And I think that was the key.
I realized, too, that as a track runner or as a runner, even if I put yardage on another runner, I waited for him to catch me back before I'd move again. No point in trying to keep distance that he's trying to gain. So I realized that getting up to him, perhaps he is waiting for me to catch him and that he was going to take me to the finish line as a sprint. So I knew to hit him as hard as I could, when I could, as far away as I could and run the tangent, and it kind of all came together.

Q. In other words, not be running alongside him for more than like a millisecond?
ROD DIXON: No, I didn't want to do that. I wanted to surprise him because he hadn't looked back for almost a mile. So he knew I was coming, but he knew if he looked back, I would get something from that. But I actually got something from the fact that he didn't look back.
RICHARD FINN: I think if I remember that, that race brought the word tangent into the world of marathon running.
ROD DIXON: That's when you guys started measuring the tangents.

Q. Coming back 25 years later, you had that tremendous finish there. Now you're running with your daughter. How are you going to feel in that last quarter mile coming up to the finish? And what you don't know, ladies and gentlemen, or what you may know, is he's still got leg speed. He ran a 4:47 mile just recently in training. So he's in shape. So how is it going to feel down that last 400 meters?
ROD DIXON: Well, Emma ran the half marathon in Sydney in September and she ran 1:37, so I knew that I've got to get my speed back again because she's not beating me in the last 385 yards, and I've told her, don't you even try (laughter).
We're starting together, we're going to finish together, and it's such a big thrill that my daughter wants to do this with me. I have another daughter ten years old who's also now planning on running with me when she's 29, and that makes me 78 (laughter).

Q. Just to clarify one thing, I heard that actually you had come a few months before to the Midnight Run on New Year's Eve, and you had been told that you were going to have a fairly easy time of it, and then at the turnaround you noticed that there was somebody fairly close, and that was Jeff Smith, right?
ROD DIXON: What I realized is that the pace car always stays a good distance from the lead runners, so I felt that I was covering the lead runners just after the start. But the truck was getting further and further away, and I thought, well, that's odd that they would go that far ahead. On the turnaround I noticed right behind the truck was this all-black-clad runner and I recognized it as Jeff Smith, and you know what I thought. So I caught him up and I spoke to Jeff on that occasion, too.
I had raced against Jeff in European cross country and track, and I knew what sort of a tough character he was. I can tell you, I didn't plan on it being that close. I thought that I might have been able to catch him earlier, but the race is what it is in the history book.
I have to say, too, that wonderfully the friendships that I've made through this sport, this lifetime of running that I've done, and George Hirsch especially, and I remember I announced to George after Fred Lebow was the first person who announced that I'm coming to run New York, and I remember we talked about that, George.
GEORGE HIRSCH: Don't do it unless you're ready.
ROD DIXON: Exactly.
RICHARD FINN: Just a thought. Jeff Smith, who lives in Massachusetts, would have loved to have been down here with us today, but he's a full-time teacher and couldn't make it today. Certainly I know that you've been talking with Jeff.

Q. It's a two-part question. Are you taking this -- is this just a jog for you on Sunday or are you taking it seriously? Is there going to be any kind of competitive fire in you during the race? That's the first part. And the second part, what do you think you might get out of this event on Sunday that you didn't get all those years ago?
ROD DIXON: Well, I certainly -- the idea of running tomorrow is a celebration of my 25 years, a celebration of my daughter Emma, and the race itself. And so I know that I'll be taking a lot more time to run it on Sunday, and therefore I will be able to enjoy it probably more so than I did in those days.
To take in the crowds and take in the five boroughs, to take in everything that is New York City and wonderfully what started with Fred Lebow and Allan Steinfeld, my friendship with both of them started nearly 28 years ago, and this is really to -- as I said, it was a privilege to win it, and I love coming back here, I love the people of New York, I love this race. I think it is the premier race in the world, and I think it really does involve everything that is the long run of life.
MARY WITTENBERG: And I'll add, this year New Zealander athlete Kim Smith is in the field and has a chance to be the next New Zealand athlete to win the race.
Rod, I also want to thank you. As I mentioned before, we constantly use your race in recruiting the track runners, and especially the 1,500 meter runners, so when you see Bernard Lagat and Craig Mottram run someday, you can know we've been talking to them about your run for many years now.
Rod will be available for questions, and we're now going to say thank you again so much, and we'll be cheering for you on Sunday.
As we transition, there's a lot that we're celebrating this year with our 50th anniversary with a long list of what's new, and there's a lot of people that we're celebrating this year. It's still difficult to look back, and it feels like yesterday, but it was a year ago that we lost Ryan Shea on the Saturday morning of the Olympic trials here in New York. So this year we are extremely pleased and so very honored to be hosting a celebration of Ryan Shea.
So among the 39,000 runners that will be out there on race day, we're going to have a lot of runners running in Ryan Shea's honor, and I want to call out two groups. One, Alicia Shea's family and her brother-in-law is leading that charge. Some 20 strong will be running the race.
And as well, the group near and dear to my heart as a Notre Dame cross country alumni myself, a whole bunch of guys from the Notre Dame cross country team over several years, which of course Ryan was a part of and a star of for his four years at Notre Dame.
So Sean McManus, if you can give a wave, he is heading up that crew for Notre Dame, so we welcome you. I can think of no better celebration of Ryan than running the marathon. So if anyone has questions after, wants to talk to Sean about the team - Luke Watson helped put it together a year ago - please do. Sean, as you know, I'll be cheering you on with extra support.

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