Bob Hersh (© Getty Images)
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Bob Hersh, a long-standing member of the World Athletics Council and former Senior Vice President of the global governing body, died on Wednesday (18) at the age of 82.
Hersh was a huge figure in the world of athletics. As well as his roles on the World Athletics Council, Hersh was also Competition Committee Chair for eight years, a Juridical Commission member and Technical Committee member. He held multiple roles at USA Track & Field (USATF), including being a Board member for more than three decades, and was also much admired as a statistician, writer, anti-doping advocate and voice of the sport, sharing his passion and knowledge as a stadium announcer at many high-profile events dating back to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
“Bob has been a passionate athletics fan for longer than I have been in the sport,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. “His love of athletics was ignited at high school where, with what became his trademark pragmatic analytical honesty, he realised he did not have the talent required to become an elite athlete, so he chose to manage his high school and then college athletics teams, learning ‘on the job’.
“He served on Council and a number of World Athletics’ Commissions for over two decades. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport, due in large part to a desire to develop his skills across many areas. From technical official and part time coach to committee chairman and sport commentator, Bob flourished in all the roles he took on.
“His advice and guidance was sought by so many people around the world, and his wisdom and no nonsense approach will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and condolences go to his life companion, Louise, his family and the hordes of people around the world that counted Bob as a friend.”
Born on 12 February 1940, Hersh’s first sporting passion was baseball as he lived near the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was then introduced to athletics at the age of 12, when his father took him to a track and field event at Madison Square Garden, and a lifelong love was sparked.
“I just went nuts. I really thought this is the greatest sport in the world,” Hersh explained in a 2018 interview with USATF ahead of his National Track & Field Hall of Fame induction. “I knew that I was not a particularly talented athlete, so I became the student manager of my high school track team and then I did the same thing in college at Columbia.”
After managing his high school team in Midwood, New York City, and college team at Columbia University, Hersh then moved into officiating after graduating from Harvard Law School.
He joined the World Athletics Technical Committee in 1984, holding the role of member through to 1999. It was in 1999 that he became a World Athletics Council member, a position he held until 2015. He became Vice President in 2007 and Senior Vice President in 2011, the highest position at the sport’s global governing body ever held by an American.
Hersh was also a Technical Delegate at numerous Olympic Games and World Athletics Series events and received the global governing body’s Silver Order of Merit in 2015.
Of his many outstanding achievements, Hersh was understandably proud of his announcing career, which saw him become the voice of the sport at six Olympic Games, nine World Championships, and many other top-level events, as well as his development of the USA/Mobil Indoor Grand Prix in the 1980s.
“The Grand Prix contributed a lot, both to the meets and to the athletes,” Hersh explained in his 2018 interview with USATF. “It provided money to help the meets survive and to provide competition for the athletes, and prize money for the athletes themselves.
“A few years after TAC (USATF) did it, the IAAF (now World Athletics) developed its own Grand Prix, very largely based on the model that we had done.”
Asked about his role in helping to shape the rules of the sport, he added: “When I first joined the Technical Committee, the rule, which was difficult to enforce strictly, was that you could not coach from the stands or from anywhere else. A coach couldn't shout instructions to an athlete or use hand signals or hold up a sign. I thought that was absurd.
“Given the fact that basketball players and football players could go over and talk to the coaches, I just didn't think that made any sense. I was easily able to convince the IAAF to change that rule. Now, of course, they've gone even further by providing coaches seating in the stands, particularly near the field events.”
When it comes to his announcing experiences, some of Hersh's standout moments included the 1991 World Championships men’s long jump, in which Mike Powell broke the world record and beat Carl Lewis, and Columbia’s 4x800m win at the 2007 Penn Relays.
"It was one time when I was sorry I was on the microphone, because I had to keep my composure," he said of the Penn Relays race. "What I really wanted to do was start jumping up and down and screaming. If people ask me what's the greatest track race I've ever seen, that's what immediately comes to mind."