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November 1, 2013

George Hirsch

Frank Litsky


GEORGE HIRSCH:テつ I think that rain overhead is hopefully the final reminder of last year, and then we can get on with the important business at hand for the weekend, and the important business at hand today is a real pleasure to honor Frank Litsky.テつ And Frank is following in the footsteps of Dick Patrick, Amby Burfoot, and Kenny Moore, so you're joining some pretty great company here.
Three years ago, when dick Patrick came up here, he brought his daughter, and they came up on the train, and she said to him, dad, she said, who was this guy George Hirsch?テつ And Dick said, well, he's still alive, which, of course, makes my job a little bit easier today.
Frank Litsky retired not long ago from a more than 50‑year career at "The New York Times," more than 3,700 articles in the newspaper, and a 62‑year career as a newspaper man, covering 15 Super Bowls, 8 Olympics, and all sports.テつ But we know Frank, really, as the dean of track and field journalism.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, and most importantly, as we were chatting again this morning over coffee, an incredible passion for our sport.テつ And that's as it should be because Frank, for 40 years, was the president of the Track Writers Association.テつ I see Walt and Alan and a good number of people, Peter who used to attend those luncheons at Mama Leone's and the Carnegie Deli.テつ You put a lot of places out of business.テつ I'm not sure if there's any connection at all.
But there's one thing that I know about Frank that has really impressed me, and the best in any profession will find this; when people, young people, come to you and want some advice, the great ones are always there for them.
And I took this off The Times website.テつ A young man from Australia said, what advice would you give to someone who wants to develop his or her career skills to be a reporter?テつ And Frank replied with a two‑page dissertation on journalism to this one young guy.テつ And in it, I said, if I could use the words to sum up the preparation for the reporter's career, it would be read, read, and read.テつ He went on to say, and it's a sad fact of life, and I think every journalist in the room can take something from this, that no one has to read what we write.テつ To make your story interesting, tell the story, describe the scene, get the people involved in your story to talk about what happened, and use their quotes where appropriate.
Make the lead of your story interesting, feasible, finish it with a kicker, a funny quote‑‑ unless the story's about a tragedy‑‑ or a funny line, but don't force it.テつ Recently in talking to a school of journalists, he said, we're in the business of seduction.テつ We seduce the reader.テつ He told them write tight, write good, have a sense of humor, and then get out.
Ladies and gentlemen, Frank Litsky.
FRANK LITSKI:テつ I want to thank you all for coming.テつ I'm so honored to receive an award from a man I've known for years, a man of huge class, a man who has given so much to running.
I'm so honored to receive an award that has previously honored three distinguished writers, three longtime friends.テつ Dick Patrick came along at a time when track and field was hurting in public exposure, and he worked his tail off for USA Today, had track in there almost every day, and did a wonderful job.
Amby Burfoot was as good a writer as he was a runner, and he won the Boston Marathon.テつ He was always interested.
Kenny Moore‑‑ Kenny's not here.テつ I don't like Kenny Moore.テつ I would cover an event, and I wrote what I thought was a pretty good story, and I was pleased.テつ And five days later I'd pick up Sports Illustrated and read what Kenny wrote about it.テつ How the hell can a guy write to beautifully, so touchingly?テつ He was elegant.テつ He was an elegant writer.テつ When he writes now, he still writes elegantly, and I‑‑ envy is a bad word.テつ I really admire him, and I think he's one of the great writers we've ever had.
I've been in this business for 61 1/2, 62 years before I retired.テつ I've written about more than 40 sports.テつ Nothing has been more pleasurable than track and field.テつ On the track and in the field and on the roads.
My first marathon I covered was 1964 in Boston, the year before the winner was a Belgian named Aurele Vandendreissche.テつ I can spell it too.テつ I used to be able to.テつ In '64 he came back, and they wanted to interview him, and they tried to set me up, marathon people, and we just couldn't work out a time.テつ Then I found out he was staying in the same hotel as I was, the Lennox.
So I found out his room number, knocked on the door, boldly introduced myself.テつ He was tied up.テつ He had a lot of things on.テつ And I noticed something on the table.テつ I said, what is that?テつ He said, a bottle of dried beef.テつ I said, where did you get that?テつ Did you bring that from Belgium?テつ He said, yeah.テつ I said, you're not supposed to do that.テつ If I tell customs about that, they'll throw you out before the marathon.テつ So he found time to talk to me.テつ We had a good interview.
I followed the growth of this organization, the New York Road Runners, since the start, and I applaud what they've done for women's running, as distance runners, as marathon runners.テつ Women's running, distance running interests me because I was there.テつ Roger Robinson knows this.テつ I was there when Kathrine Switzer was born.テつ I was on the scene.テつ In those days, 1967, there were about five Boston newspapers, and not a lot of others covered the marathon‑‑ New York Times, a few other papers.
They had a school bus.テつ There's only about 70 people in the field maybe, so there's plenty of room on the roads.テつ There's a school bus for the press, and it weaved in and out of traffic.テつ And on the bus were Will Cloney, who's the meet director, and Jock Semple, who was his assistant.テつ Jack was a trainer.テつ He was a Scotsman who spoke with a very heavy brogue, and the writers all loved to pick on him.テつ He was easy to irritate.
We're about two miles into the race, and there are three people running side by side.テつ One was a short guy‑‑ they were all wearing, I think, Syracuse aerials.テつ One was a short guy with gray hair.テつ It turned out to be Arnold Briggs, the coach.テつ On the outside was a guy who's 6'4", 235.テつ Turned out to be Tom Miller, who was a hammer thrower and a runner, good combination.テつ And in between was someone else.
Now, the race when it started, it was chilly.テつ Everybody was bundled.テつ Then it got warmer.テつ And people shed things, and the runner in the middle pulled back the hood, and there was long hair.テつ Those were days when guys didn't wear long hair.テつ It was a woman, a woman running in the Boston Marathon.テつ That was illegal.テつ The AAU rules said women could not compete against men.テつ The rules said women can't run more than‑‑ couldn't run more than a mile and a half.
One of the writers spotted her and said, jock, there's a woman in your race.テつ Jock said, stop the bus, stop the bus.テつ He got off, and Will Cloney got off, and they went over to her to get the number.テつ She had worn a number, 281 maybe, 261, one of those numbers, and they wanted to get the number because obviously she was wearing it illegally.テつ She wasn't, and they thought she was.
Well, the 235‑pound hammer thrower who was her boyfriend has strong shoulders, and he shouldered everyone away.テつ He shouldered Jock Semple away.テつ He shouldered Will Cloney.テつ And finally they gave up.
Now, on the bus‑‑ this was the day before lap P tos.テつ Those were days of portable typewriters, and writers‑‑ the bus writers all had their typewriters, and they were writing‑‑ as the race went on, they were writing stuff, and at certain designated places, the bus stopped, the windows opened, and there were motorcycle riders for the papers, and they took what the guy wrote, they took it back, and that was a time when they printed like mad.
So the whole thing was exciting.テつ Now we try to find out who the runner is.テつ We looked‑‑ we had printed lists of who the runners are, and number 281, 261, was initial K. Switzer.テつ That makes sense, K could be anything.テつ And I look after the race‑‑ I'm going to write one story.テつ After the race, I look at the official results.テつ K. Switzer is not listed.テつ Well, it turns out that the timers quit after four hours, and other unofficial people came in to time.テつ Anyway, it turned out that she did 4:20, but she did the marathon.
My office got excited about this.テつ They had me write a separate story.テつ Two stories was a big deal on "The New York Times" for the same person in the same edition.テつ I went back to the office.テつ Marathons are Monday.テつ I went back to the office on Wednesday, and the sports editor said, hey, that was an interesting story of the marathon.テつ See if you can find a feature followup on this.
Ten minutes later, the phone rang.テつ Frank Litsky, this is Kathrine Switzer.テつ There are some things about me you do not know.テつ I covered the mic, and I said, I got a feature.テつ Well, it turns out that she was 20 years old.テつ Roger, you'd know this.テつ She was 20 years old.テつ She was a junior at Syracuse, and she had participated in many sports at Eastbrook College, transferred to Syracuse, studying journalism.
I asked her about women, and she said she didn't know that women couldn't run.テつ To this day, I contest that.テつ Her entry form was initials K.V. Switzer.テつ I think the V was Virginia.テつ She said, she always signed her name that way.
All runners in the Boston Marathon had to have heart examinations before they ran, and there were doctors there who examine you, but you could bring in a certificate from her own doctor.テつ She brought in a certificate.テつ Apparently Briggs, the coach, handled all this, and I don't know how much Katherine knows or didn't know, but it was wonderful.テつ We've been friends since then.
I've covered a lot of track meets and a lot of marathons, and I've loved them all.テつ I loved the charm of Kathrine and Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson and Nina Kuscsik, Alberto Salazar and his father Jose and so many others.
Yesterday at the Hall of Fame induction here, Frank Shorter said we all enjoy being part of history.テつ Well, I enjoy the little part of history I played in this sport.
So thank you, Xena, for keeping me healthy enough to be here.テつ Thank you all for letting me in your house.テつ Thank you for this award.

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