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Ex-race director Allan Steinfeld inducted into New York City Marathon's Hall of Fame

Nine-time winner of the New York Marathon Grete

Nine-time winner of the New York Marathon Grete Waitz, left, and four-time winner Bill Rogers, right, flank New York Marathon race director Allan Steinfeld on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 1999, in New York. Photo Credit: AP / Victor Sailer

It was Fred Lebow whose public scheming made the New York City Marathon irresistible street theater and acceptable physical activity. So when Lebow was losing his long bout to cancer in 1994, New York Road Runners club chairman George Hirsch recalled visiting the dying Lebow and the subject of his assistant, Allan Steinfeld, as successor being raised.

"I was in Fred's apartment," Hirsch said. "By then, his voice was just a whisper. He was talking about Allan, and there were a lot of questions as to whether Allan was the right guy. I remember Fred pulled me close to him and said . . . "Truman."

On Thursday, Steinfeld, who indeed succeeded the race's FDR without the least hiccup, was among five inducted into the marathon's Hall of Fame.

He was joined by Katherine Switzer, the women's running pioneer and advocate; German Silva, twice the New York City champ, and George Spitz, a visionary leader in the efforts to make the five-borough marathon a reality. Former New York Times reporter and sports editor Neil Amdur also was honored with the George Hirsch journalism award.

Steinfeld, now 68, declared that first of the 12 marathons he officially directed, in 1994, as the most memorable. It was the race in which Silva turned up the wrong street in Central Park before he was redirected by a city cop -- and still won.

Steinfeld was not the least bit nervous about running the show that day, he said, because "I was already doing it for years, anyway, and Fred knew it."

Though Lebow was constantly in the spotlight, he always acknowledged Steinfeld's mastery of timing, scoring, course management, finish-line design and tying all the loose ends together with computers.

"Allan was just the classic unsung hero," said Mary Wittenberg, Steinfeld's successor in 2006 and still race director. "He's a behind-the-scenes person who likes it that way."

It was Steinfeld who hired Wittenberg to fill the top assistant's role he had played to the impresario Lebow, whom Steinfeld called "the P.T. Barnum of the sport."

When Steinfeld took the job in 1976, the first year that the marathon was spread to the five boroughs, he had been a high school math and physics teacher but found that operating road-racing events was more fun -- and didn't require him to wear a tie to work every day.

He already was blind in one eye. A series of operations had failed to save the vision in his left eye, the result of a detached retina from an accident decades earlier. He was struck in the eye with an antenna wire he was wrapping on a rooftop in Alaska, where he had gone to study the Northern Lights for doctorate research in radio astrology.

He called the New York City Marathon "a herd of elephants moving along. They're not stampeding. But you can't stop them or turn them. You can only nudge them."

He did that, remarkably well, until 2005. He now is retired, which allows him to read a lot. Currently: "Profiles in Courage." Typical for Truman.

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