Bob Hersh: 2023 Allen Dawson Award for Contributions to T&F, In Memoriam
The fact that his peers in track & field called the late Bob Hersh, “The Commissioner” (or “The Commish”) is indicative of two things: One, that his peers recognized him as a great leader in the sport and, two, that they knew Hersh had a great sense of humor. Because while Hersh – who passed away in February at 82 – was one of the most important and valued voices in T&F, he absolutely did not have the air of being above it all, or dictator-like that the commissioner title might suggest.
He was as down-to-earth as could be and a friend of everyone in the sport – from the president of World Athletics to a volunteer in a local high school meet. And that was despite having a Harvard Law School education and being about as knowledgeable about the rules, statistics and history of track & field as one could be.
Hersh was a baseball fan as a boy, but fell in love with track during his first meet at Madison Square Garden at age 12. Not quite having high-level competitive talent, he became student manager of his high school team and then at Columbia University, as an undergrad. After law school, he moved into officiating and over the next few decades, his passion for the sport and willingness to take on new challenges blossomed in incredible ways.
He joined the World Athletics (then IAAF) Technical Committee in 1984 and served there for 15 years. In 1999 that he became a World Athletics Council member, then 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 many Olympic Games and World Athletics Series events and was honored with WA’s Silver Order of Merit in 2015.
Hersh’s passion for announcing also reached world class levels, as he became the commanding, entertaining and informative voice of the sport at six Olympic Games, nine World Championships, and many other high-level meets.
As his wife Louise has noted, perhaps Hersh’s most joyous moment in the sport as an announcer came when his beloved alma mater, Columbia, won the 4x800 at the Penn Relays. “He always said it was the greatest track race he’s ever seen,” she recalls. “He wanted to jump up and down, and scream and cheer, but since he was on the microphone he had to keep his composure. That’s one of his favorite stories.”