for Speed, and Local Pride
By GLENN COLLINS
August 20, 2004 New York Times
as the Olympic high jump, hammer throw and heptathlon competitions
begin, a new, never-used, spike-resistant, brick-red Olympic
track is good to go. Twenty-two rows of sculptured blue
polyethylene stadium seats? Waiting to be filled. And banks
of 2,000-watt floodlights are ready to illuminate sprinters
as they explode off the blocks at night.
not at the world-renowned 72,000-seat Athens Olympic Stadium,
but on that new running track at Randalls Island that, for
months now, has been so intriguing to motorists across the
East River on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.
$45 million, 4,754-seat Icahn Stadium, named after its principal
private donor, the investor Carl Icahn, is now 85 percent
built. And the already completed $1 million running surface
is essentially the same as the one in the great stadium
in Greece. It was installed directly after the Athens track
by the Mondo company of Alba, Italy, the premier Olympic
will definitely be a fast track," said Luca Reinaudo,
the company's construction director. A good thing, because
after the stadium itself is completed in November, its creators
hope it will be a future site for Olympic trials in track
and field, after its expected Class 1 certification by the
International Association of Athletics Federations in Geneva.
city's parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, said that to many
track mavens, the completion of the stadium "will be
a watershed moment for the reinvigoration of track and field
in New York City."
think it will inspire a whole generation of runners, just
to know that they can compete on the same track as Olympic
runners," he added. "Symbolically, it says that
city athletes deserve a world-class facility, instead of
a disgusting falling-apart track with crummy portable bathrooms
and no place to change in."
commissioner was referring to the old runners' refuge on
Randalls Island, the unlamented Downing Stadium - torn down
in 2002 - where he once ran as a sprinter in his student
days at Horace Mann.
called the Municipal Stadium in 1936, it was renamed in
honor of John J. Downing, a Parks Department director of
recreation, in 1955.
under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration,
the 22,000-seat stadium was ready just in time for the American
Olympic trials on July 11, 1936, presided over by President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert Moses. (Jesse Owens
won the 100-yard dash there and went on to compete in the
Berlin Olympics.) And the Women's Olympic Team Trials were
held there in 1964.
the stadium showcased other events - from Duke Ellington
concerts in the 1930's to the New York Cosmos soccer team
and its star Pelé in the 1970's - sentimental New
Yorkers recall their "Chariots of Fire" relationship
with the old cinder-track stadium, where generations of
children were cheered by their parents during more than
a half-century of competitions.
increasingly decrepit stadium fell into dire disrepair during
the fiscal crisis in the 1970's, when drug addicts stole
the copper piping and anything that wasn't nailed down,
Mr. Benepe said. Despite a 1980's renovation, he said, the
track surface was "in dismal shape" toward the
Cohen, the founder and president of the 12-year-old Randalls
Island Sports Foundation, a public-private partnership with
the Parks Department that is modeled on the Central Park
Conservancy, said that, in recent years, "New York
hasn't had nearly the prominence in track and field that
it should have, given the size of our city."
foundation built the new stadium within the footprint of
the former one as part of its mission to develop the island's
recreational facilities and maintain its 480-acre city park.
Boden, the executive director of the foundation, promised
that the new stadium "will be held sacred for track
and field." A master plan calls for the construction
of a separate performing-arts amphitheater, as well as a
new soccer field, a $120-million water park and a new tennis
center with a bleacher stadium and 20 new courts.
track stadium is already paid for, including $22.6 million
in city money; the rest of the $45 million was raised by
the foundation from private sources. Mr. Icahn's $10 million
donation permitted the construction and installation of
the stadium's two cable-supported, 170-foot light towers,
which will provide the illumination for evening meets and
also support the stadium's roof.
drainage and the asphalt-and-gravel subsurface preparation
of the track cost $2 million; its high-tolerance installation,
verified by on-site measurement, does not deviate from level
more than an eighth of an inch over 10 feet of track.
competitive requirements drove the efforts of the stadium's
designer, Hillier Group Architecture in Manhattan. The laws
of physics dictate that runners go faster on tracks that
are more circular, rather than elongated hippodrome-like
tracks, where runners lose momentum in tight turns. The
new track's large radius - 120 feet - was designed to permit
runners to make wide, fast turns.
till we begin piling up some record-breaking performances
in the stadium," said Dr. Norbert W. Sander, an internist
who is president of the Armory Foundation, which runs the
New Balance Track and Field Center at 168th Street and Fort
Washington Avenue in Manhattan.
armory was renovated and given its own state-of-the-art
indoor Mondo track after Dr. Sander mounted a $25 million
effort to refurbish it, turning it into the busiest track-and-field
facility in the country, with 120 meets a year. The Armory
Foundation staff will oversee the Randalls track-and-field
program schedules and coordinate seasons between the indoor
and outdoor tracks.
Icahn Stadium, there are lockers, training rooms and shower
facilities for up to 1,000 visiting athletes; also available
are first aid and treatment rooms, a lecture hall, equipment-storage
facilities and even a "doping suite," or drug-testing
the lighting may prove to be revolutionary. Dr. Sander said
that the city's torrid summer days meant that the outdoor
track's season was limited. The lights, he said, "will
be perfect for track meets at night, and will enable us
to host international track meets as well.''
the Sports Foundation and Dr. Sander are now going after
major track meets, including the N.C.A.A. regional championships
and the 2008 Olympic trials.
the running track itself will be preserved for competition
and not open to the public, Mr. Icahn hopes that schools
- public, private and parochial - will make constant use
of the facility. "The city doesn't do enough to help
our kids - the poor ones especially - get away from the
television set," Mr. Icahn said. "Every kid deserves
the right to exercise and to compete."
construction began in January 2003, more than 1,000 laborers
from different trades have worked on the stadium. Hard hats
have been putting the finishing touches on interiors, and
have prepared the grass infield that will be used for the
shot-put, pole vault, high jump, discus and javelin. "The
I.A.A.F. won't approve artificial turf," said Rebecca
Darr, the stadium's construction manager for the city's
Economic Development Corporation.
the workers, achieving the Olympic-level tolerances has
been a challenge. "There has been nothing average about
this job," said Vinnie Perrone, a carpenter who was
been on the site for four months.
he worried about the judgment of future Olympians? "Bring
'em on," he said.