Ted Corbitt passed away yesterday, costing NYC one of its own icons of long distance running. The 88-year-old died from a respiratory condition related to separate cancers that outdistanced his life as a pioneer of racing. Ted Corbitt was a former and founding president of the NYC Road Runners Club, an Olympian, and a champion of ultra-marathon running. While the NYC Marathon is regularly won by Kenyans and other African runners, Corbitt established himself all while an American-born black man, in an otherwise lily-white sport.
Jesse Owens broke the racial barrier by competing in the 1936 Olympic games as a sprinter, and Corbitt was a member of the 1952 Olympic team in Helsinki where he ran the marathon. Corbitt was born in South Carolina during the Jim Crow era and ran competitively at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. Eventually he attended NYU, where he earned a degree as a physical therapist and worked for decades.
Ted Corbitt became the third president of the New York Road Runners Club, and set the record during his lifetime for the person capable of finishing the Boston Marathon in under three hours (22 times!). Later in life, Corbitt became a proponent of ultra-marathoning, which involves races of 50 to 100 miles, if not longer. He also pioneered the practice of using an accurate device to standardize race distances. NYRR president Mary Wittenberg said, "Ted was a quiet yet tremendous force at NYRR and in our sport. As pioneer, leader, and our first president he set the tone and tempo of making a positive difference for so many that we continue to promote today."
NYC Marathon founder Fred Lebow has a statue in Central Park and 5th Ave. We hope that one of Ted Corbitt will soon stand beside him as a tribute and inspiration to the runners and athletes of NYC.