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Lebow's successor remembers his mentor and friend

Lebow's successor remembers his mentor and friend
Bert Rosenthal (AP)

8 October 1999 – New York - It's been five years since the death of Fred Lebow, the impresario of the New York City Marathon, and Allan Steinfeld, his successor, will never forget his good friend.

The two worked together at the New York Road Runners Club for 21 years until Lebow died of brain cancer on Oct. 9, 1994.

"We were a team ... the producer and the director,'' Steinfeld said. "That was fun. He was like P.T. Barnum. He'd try anything. If it didn't work, so what?"

While the two were diametrically different in personality - Lebow was an easy-going, fun-loving individual who enjoyed publicity and once owned a comedy club in Cleveland, Steinfeld is more serious, businesslike and low-key - they worked together in harmony most of the time.

"We'd argue and fight a lot," but never for long, Steinfeld said. "We were best friends."

In addition to the marathon, Lebow directed many other events, including the Women's Mini Marathon, the Fifth Avenue Mile and the Empire State Building Run Up. Steinfeld was responsible for the technical side of those events.

"Whenever we made decisions in the past, I could bounce the ideas off Fred and he would bounce them off me," Steinfeld said.

Now, all the responsibilities belong to Steinfeld. He remembers Lebow with sadness.

"It's not the same now," he said.

That's why Steinfeld decided to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Lebow's death by having his friend's picture, with his traditional painter's cap, placed on the back of the medals given to all the finishers in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7, the 30th running of the race.

He also wants to have Lebow's statue, which now resides "in the bushes in Central Park," to get a permanent and more visible spot in the park.

"Initially, it was very difficult without him,'' Steinfeld said. "The first year was crazy. I kept looking up, talking to Fred, even though he wasn't there."

Steinfeld is worried that many of today's young runners will not realise Lebow's importance.

"I fear the new generation will not know who Fred was and what he did,'' Steinfeld said.

He maintains that Lebow, as well as 1972 Olympic marathon gold medallist Frank Shorter, was responsible for the long-distance running boom in the United States.

"When he had the New York City Marathon run through the five boroughs for the first time in 1976 for the bicentennial and when the race went on national television in 1981, those were important factors," Steinfeld said.