USATF Prepares for New Heights in Dynamic Olympiad, Perspectives from Four USATF Committee Chairs Plus Top Administrators: Bill Roe, Part 3/7, by Mark Winitz, note by Larry Eder

Bill Roe has been involved in our sport for over three decades. A former college coach, former coach of Club Northwest, and former President of USA Track & Field, Bill Roe has been an advocate for long distance running and our sport for most of his adult life.

Mark Winitz focused this third of his seven pieces on USATF leadership and their perspectives on how to develop the sport over the next Olympiad. 

Bill Roe, photo courtesy of

USATF Prepares for New Heights

in Dynamic Olympiad

Perspectives from Four USATF Committee Chairs Plus Top Administrators

Part 3:

Conversation with Bill Roe, USATF Long Distance Running Division

(Part 2 in a multi-part series)

by Mark Winitz



Bill Roe was elected to serve a four-year term as Chair of USATF's Long Distance Running Division at the organization's 2012 Annual Meeting, succeeding former Chair Fred Finke. Roe's resume includes work in nearly all capacities of the sport as a coach, meet director, clinician, official, administrator, and executive. Plus, the founder (in 1972) of Seattle's Club Northwest has a perspective on the U.S. track and field federation that few others can claim. He is the only person within the organization to serve as an elected officer for 20 years. During Roe's two terms (2000-2008) as USATF President, the organization crafted a major restructuring of its Board, announced a pioneering Zero Tolerance drug initiative, created a Foundation to financially support USATF programs and athletes, and sent track and field teams to the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games that led the medals count.

In addition, Roe was a member of the founding USATF Board of Directors, and has served the organization in capacities as Vice President and Secretary. Roe has also been a member of countless USATF committees and task forces on the local, regional, and national levels.

Roe now leads USATF's LDR Division which is composed of the federation's Men's, Women's and Masters LDR Committees, Mountain/Ultra/Trail Sport Council, Cross Country Running Council, and Road Running Technical Council. His tenure got off to a favorable start in early 2013 at the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country meet in Scotland where Team USA's senior men's team placed first and women's squad placed second. Then, in late March, in one of the most surprising performances in recent memory, Team USA's senior men's team earned a silver medal at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The senior women's team placed fourth.

Bill, can you describe some of your primary goals for USA long distance running from now through 2016?

As a prefacing statement, I think LDR as a whole within USATF can generally be regarded as the healthiest part of the sport. It has the biggest distance component and the most number of active participants according to statistics from Running USA and others. The membership of the Road Runners Club of America, alone, is larger than USATF's membership, although their method of membership is easy and quite inexpensive, and not really an individual matter. It's done by RRCA member clubs.

USATF is doing a great job of getting the LDR elite athletes' side of things right. A lot of what Glenn Latimer and Virginia Brophy Achman (immediate past USATF Men's LDR and Women's LDR Committee Chairs) have done over the last few years is very commendable. But, one of the priorities of USATF's Board is to increase overall membership. I think they're going to look at LDR to provide some of these increased membership numbers. And, they're going to look at how we can attract more people coming out of the schools community. So, one goal is building membership.

Of course, USATF has attempted to tackle this in the past. Bill, you remember in the 1980s and 1990s when USATF encouraged major marathons to require that their entrants have USATF membership. That didn't go over well with many recreational runners.

Yes, it didn't work very well, particularly since we weren't providing anything for those members. There was the lame, perpetually late, USATF magazine and the pretty-much-useless second-tier insurance that very few people were able to use. The marathons were pretty justified in dropping the membership requirement when they did. I was one of the people warning Ollan Cassell (former Executive Director of the U.S. track and field federation) that it was going to happen. When Craig Masback (Cassell's successor) got into the Executive Director position there was nothing he could do on the spur of the moment to encourage a sudden benefits program.

In the meantime, our membership bottomed out at about 60,000. Last year's USATF membership was back up to about 114,000. These increases over the last 12 years have been primarily due to USATF Associations--such as Pacific, New England, and New Jersey--that offer distance runners complete LDR programs. These programs are the best practices that we want to emulate for every other Association.

Plus, there are 1.5 million people competing in school (high school and collegiate) track and field and cross country programs. And, there are approximately 9 million people running in road runs in the U.S. each year. Some of these are one-opt folks, but the large percentage of them are probably doing multiple races. They are primarily fitness-oriented folks, something we need to encourage.

What are some of your other goals for LDR? How about in respect to our U.S. distance teams in world championships, etc.?

Yes, another goal is build upon what Fred Finke (former USATF LDR Division Chair), along with the LDR committees, did over the past eight years--to continue the competitive strength of U.S. distance runners on the international scene. Our London (Olympic Games) LDR returns, alone, indicate that we're doing something right. But if we can't encourage and support our best athletes to attend world championship events, then we're putting our primary focus on only one international event every quadrennial: the Olympic marathon. The reality is that the mindset of every (elite or emerging elite) U.S. distance runner, and their coaches, is on the Olympic dream.

Of course, being a cross country enthusiast, one of my goals has always been not only to have a world cross country or world half marathon championship in the U.S., but also to have cross country as part of the Olympics again, like it was back in the 1920s. When I was USATF President I did promulgate that goal. Before I knew it, (IAAF President) Lamine Diack was buying into the concept and approached the International Olympic Committee about putting cross country into the Winter Olympics.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) doesn't even recognize that cross country is a valid part of raising the next U.S. generation of marathoners. They won't fund anything USATF does in cross country, which is a very short-sighted viewpoint. Almost every good middle distance and distance runner we've had in the last 50 or 60 years has competed in cross country on the school level. At this point, it doesn't seem like we can do much to change the USOC's view, but we're going to try.

What are your priorities regarding the development of emerging elite U.S. distance runners?

My experience tells me that the more people you have aspiring to the highest level. the better you'll do at that level. One of the key foundations of our LDR development efforts has been the LDR training groups. One of the best moves we made in the late 1990s and early part of the previous decade was to get LDR training centers supported and formed. A number of these groups--such as the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project--did it independently, without much help from USATF and our very limited resources. Unfortunately, a lot of the development work that these groups perform isn't recognized by the USOC for high performance financial awards.

I was surprised to learn that there are now 13 designated USA Distance Project training centers. That's a fair amount of progress in a dozen years.

Plus, I think that our USATF Elite Development Clubs (EDCs)--even though they're not recognized at the same level as the LDR training centers--also show great promise. They're helping to keep our long distance runners in the sport longer (by offering structured, club-based local training environments that serve the needs of highly competitive "open" athletes - Editor). For example, Club Northwest doesn't have much of a budget, and we don't get any (financial support) from USA Track & Field or Running USA. But we've still had athletes make U.S. international teams. The key is that both the LDR training centers and EDCs are club-based. We have to continue to work toward more group training environments for our talented athletes.

We need to continue working toward finding money to support the development of elite distance runners. I'd love to be able to tell all the folks who put on road races that even a one percent contribution to USATF for this development would be very valuable. I'm not sure we'll ever get there, but they have to realize that the overall health of the sport involves more than their particular race. It entails the involvement of the overall LDR community.

For more about U.S. Distance Running Training Centers click here.

For more about USATF Elite Development Clubs click here.

Of course, our national LDR championship/USA Running Circuit events are fine examples of the kind of support that's required to develop our best athletes by providing competitive opportunities. Do you have any priorities for this LDR championship program?

We have an overwhelming, at times, championship program. Bringing consistency and quality to this program is something that I want to continue to work on--not having any more championships at the sub-$20,000 prize money level, working everything up to a higher level so we support our athletes more.

For more about USA LDR Championships and a calendar click here

For more about the USA Running Circuit and circuit events click here

How about your thoughts on getting more coaches involved in USATF LDR affairs? Of course, coaches are a key ingredient for our developmental success.

Yes, the importance of coaches is a no brainer for me. I've been a coach for 40 years, the past 25 at Western Washington University in cross country and track and field. I know the value, and the place, for coaches in decision making. USATF has obviously had some of the best coaches involved in our LDR successes. Bob Larsen, Joe Vigil, and coaches of their caliber have been involved with our programs.

Involving more coaches is a dilemma because most of them are in the school community. The school community sort of mandates that these coaches be a part of USTFCCCA (U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association). Particularly if they must make a choice, their Athletic Directors and conferences are asking that coaches attend the USTFCCCA annual meeting--and miss USATF's. So, it's tough to get some of these coaches involved in USATF. We just need to continue to reach out and point out the value of being part of our organization, and that there are roles for them to play in development, international competition, budgetary matters--a whole host of areas.

One of biggest conundrums is just getting school community coaches to continue to work with their school's athletes after the athletes are out of the school system. Even if they maintained relationships with athletes they've coached, it would be a big step forward.

How about helping USATF keep abreast of the talented up-and-comers who are coming out of the schools? It there a role for coaches here?

I'm not sure, given all the rankings and lists out there. If we forget these up-and-comers, the (online forums and many running-related sites) aren't going to. There are all sorts of avenues for finding out about talent. Plus, the hallmark of all of our programs is that athletes select themselves. So, an athlete who thinks they have a shot at being on a U.S. team, which is their ultimate goal, has the right to show up at a trial and try to make that team. We can help them by broadening the amount of support that we provide to help get them to these trials. A lot of athletes coming out of college are facing thousands of dollars of student loan debt. They just can't entirely concentrate on running. They have to face reality. One of USATF's missions must be to help them avoid reality for a little while longer.

Is there anything else you'd like to mention regarding your objectives as USATF LDR Division Chair in the current Olympiad?

Not in particular. It's a big arena that I've reentered here at USATF, and it's changed--for the better, I think--even since I was President of the organization. Many of things being accomplished are very good. My predecessors in LDR put us on the right path, and we must stay on it. We have to keep the visibility of running, and our U.S. athletes, in front of everyone. Mark, I appreciate the time that you and American Track & Field have spent with me.

To learn more about USATF's LDR programs, click on one of the following disciplines: 

Road Running

Cross Country


MARK WINITZ is a longtime writer for AMERICAN TRACK & FIELD. He sits on USATF's national Men's Long Distance Running Executive Committee and Law & Legislation Committee. He also sits on Pacific Association/USATF's Board of Athletics and is a Certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee.

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