CHICAGO (09-Oct) -- Bank of America Chicago Marathon executive race director Carey Pinkowski was honored here today for directing 25 consecutive editions of America's second largest marathon. He has been at the helm of the race since 1990, and has seen it grow to over 45,000 entrants delivering an economic impact of over $250 million per year to this Midwestern city. The race will be held for the 37th time here on Sunday.
"It's safe to say that Carey truly epitomizes what the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is all about," said Tim Maloney, Illinois State president of the Bank of America. "Like the event, he has the ability to play on a global stage with the world's most elite runners. At the same time, he has created a race experience that is truly Chicago."
Pinkowski, who was a star prep runner at nearby Hammond High School in Indiana, has shown an equal fondness for staging both a fast elite race and a rousing mass participation event which runs through 29 different neighborhoods. During his tenure, the absolute world record was broken here three times: in 1999 by Khalid Khannouchi (MAR) in 2:05:42; 2001 by Catherine Ndereba (KEN) in 2:18:47; and 2002 by Paula Radcliffe (GBR) in 2:17:18.
To commemorate those record runs, he was presented with a special montage of mounted photos depicting scenes from his 25 years with the race, including the finish photos of the three record breakers. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel presented the montage with Maloney. Pinkowski thanked his team.
"I'm fortunate to stand up here and talk about the event that there are literally hundreds of people who play such an important role, and you'll never hear about them because they do their job so well," Pinkowski told reporters. "This event is the absolute example of partnerships between public and private entities: the residents, the volunteers, the opportunity for us to showcase this great community."
In addition to great performances --other race winners included Olympic medalists Sammy Wanjiru, Deena Kastor, Constantina Dita and Joyce Chepchumba-- Pinkowski also oversaw two bizarrely hot editions of the race in 2007 and 2008. In the 2007 event, the race was halted three hours and 50 minutes after the start due to extreme heat. The temperature hit 80F (27C) and was still climbing. Hundreds of runners needed medical attention, and one athlete died (although it was later determined that his death was related to a heart abnormality and not the heat). "Death, Havoc and Heat Mar Chicago Race," read the headline in the New York Times. Pinkowski said he had no choice but to but to shut down the race.
"It was a tough call," Pinkowski told The Times after the 2007 race. "It's my responsibility to make a decision on people's health and on public safety. All the indications were that it was only going to get worse."
Pinkowski kept his job, and the race rebounded strongly under his continued leadership. The number of finishers grew steadily from 31,401 in 2008 to 39,122 last year, making it the second largest marathon in the world behind the TCS New York City Marathon which had 50,304 finishers. Mayor Emanuel clearly has confidence in Pinkowski and has become an admirer of his event.
"You're going to see people from one hundred-plus countries show what the human spirit is about," Emanuel said today of Sunday's race. He continued: "People from different languages, different cultures, different continents (are) going to show something of the human spirit, and the endurance of that spirit in the pursuit of a single goal."
Emanuel and Pinkowski clearly have a warm relationship. The two men could be seen smiling as they shared a few private words away from the microphones. Emanuel shared one exchange with reporters.
"He asked if he gets a watch," Emanuel quipped. "I said, 'We'll see about that.'"
PHOTO: Executive race director Carey Pinkowski (l) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pose with a photo montage commemorating Pinkowski's 25 years at the helm of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)