WEEK 1: NEW YORK CITY. THE GOODWILL GAMES TRIATHLON.
I started working on this project at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. I met with the folks at Turner Sports at the CNN building. They asked me to direct the 1998 Goodwill Games Triathlon in NYC. Why not, I asked.
Two years of planning. I charted over 10 different courses. First, a Staten Island swim, biking over the Verrazano Bridge. Head to Central Park. No, this wasn't "New York". Course after course. Then, it was "agreed to" that New York is the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, Broadway, Times Square, United Nations, and Central Park.
I was asked if I could stage a world-class triathlon within this venue. Sure, why not? I'm up for the challenge. And, a challenge it was.
The swim issues: water quality, currents, temperature, marine traffic, and permission. We were told we could not use a PA system at Battery Park City from 6AM-7AM, the start time of the event. Too early. Not even a bullhorn. How was I to summons the athletes, inform the crowd, bark instructions?
We couldn't set up the buoys until 7PM the evening before. Two days before the event I didn't even have buoys. And, once set, would they even stay or would they end up on Ellis Island? We set the first one - looked good - then 20-minutes later, it was 50 yards from where we placed it. It was going to be a LONG night. I thought back to two years, ago -- a "no" answer was as easy as a "yes" answer.
We did no fewer than 20 water quality tests. Remember the rain in June? Well, the test in June... let's not even discuss it. I had sleepless nights. I felt responsible for the health of 50 of the fittest athletes in the world. When it rains hard over a long period of time, it's not a pretty sight in the Hudson River. If it doesn't rain, the Hudson is okay, really. Two days before the race I am in my hotel room in NYC looking out the window watching mother nature just open up on lower Manhattan. Why me? It never fails. I need to get involved in an indoor business.
Of course, jelly fish, which have virtually never inhabited the area, decide to pay a visit. Big ol' red, ugly looking jelly fish. Son of a fish! I couldn't believe it. I became a marine biologist overnight.
And, to add to all of this, wouldn't you know that a scaffolding tower collapses on a building in Time Square "on the bike course" killing one poor person and shutting down the Square for days and days. Oh, I have to now re-route the bike course?
The day before the event, I get a call from the Department of Transportation. What is that, a steam pipe break? On the bike course? You will what? Cover it? Oh, the steel plate covering, it will only reach a temperature of 500 degrees? Just make sure none of your athletes decide to fall off their bikes here. Oh, okay.
Imagine, too, that you're told you can't begin setting up the finish area until 10PM, the night before the race, only 9 hours before the start. What if we were missing something or something didn't fit or whatever? How are you going to fix it at 3AM? We finally finished the set up at 3:45AM, went back to the hotel for a quick shower and headed back to Battery Park City for the swim start at 7AM. Sleep? Forget it.
And, on and on it goes. Me, nervous, what gave you that idea? And you know, it all went smooth. Smooth until they got into Central Park. Hey, the worst is over. What can go wrong now? No way, a park ranger moves the cones and all the men go the wrong way!
I'm being driven back to Central Park from the start. Slam! I am now in a traffic accident. Drivers do their exchange of licenses. I'm eating the back seat. Back in the car and off to Central Park. I arrive and see the runners going in the wrong directions. I want to cry, to hide. Two years of work and because one person moves a road cone!
In the end, we recovered and only three male participants were DQ'd for going off course. I felt responsible but they suffered the penalty. The overall event was indeed spectacular. But, like the feeling you get when you just finish a marathon, I'm not sure I ever want to do this again.
WEEK 2: CAPE ELIZABETH, MAINE. THE PEOPLES BEACH TO BEACON 10K ROAD RACE.
What a difference a week makes. Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Sight of the first Peoples Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race. Joan Benoit Samuelson had asked me to direct this inaugural event back around March. How do you say no to an Olympic Gold Medalist, especially Joan? When is it? One week after the Goodwill Games Triathlon! Yikes. Oh well, what the heck. Sure.
Imagine going from the busiest city on the earth (10 million) to a town of only 9,000 residents. How refreshing. It was a glorious day. Sunny, no wind, no water quality issues, no jelly fish, no pot holes, no sky scrappers to worry about. My biggest worry was if a lobster ran across the street, the press truck running over it, getting a flat tire, the photographers being thrown off the truck, their cameras going flying, bonking the elite athletes on the head, they now go off the course and everyone runs into the Atlantic Ocean. I don't think so. Maybe in NYC but not in Cape Elizabeth.
And what a venue...along the coastal rocks of Casco Bay and finishing within a panoramic view of an endless ocean in front of the Portland Head Light, the country's oldest lighthouse.
This time, I managed to get some sleep the night before, just some. As a race director, your body may need rest but your mind doesn't dare. I went through the mental checklist. I needed vindication from the mishap the week before. This one had to be perfect or I'd be saying "do you want fries with that burger" in my next job.
I jumped out of bed at 2AM. The balloon arches, I thought...are they high enough for the press truck to drive under? I ran outside the hotel where the one mile point was located and noticed the balloon arch - no, not high enough. Imagine if I didn't think of this in time - the press truck going down course and now can't drive under the arch...the things you have to think about.
I get to the start. All is working beautifully well. The announcer is making his announcements. Music is playing...well, was playing. The gas generator dies. Even in Cape Elizabeth. The back up generator is too far down the street to retrieve in time. Now we have to use a bullhorn. Embarrassing. After shaking my head, I turned to a friend and he said, well, if this is the worst thing that will happen today, you've done good. And it was.
Great race. Wonderful weather which we will take credit for because when it is lousy we must take the blame. This race had it all...elite athletes, beautiful, honest course, tremendous community support, Joan, Johnny Kelley and 3,000 satisfied customers.
As fast as it came, it was over. It's 3 o'clock in the afternoon. My cellular phone rings. It's Joan Benoit Samuelson. She informs me that she is up on the hill "picking up trash." I respond matter-of-factly, "yeah, okay, and I'm down here picking up trash." "Well, where is the clean up crew," she asked. "You're talking to him." Oh. Welcome, Joan, to the wonderful world of race directing!