Tom Fleming, Ogden race ambassador, dead at 65
WHEELING — Tom Fleming, the two-time New York City Marathon winner who for many years served as the public face of the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic, died Wednesday while coaching high school track in New Jersey. He was 65.
Fleming will be remembered as a familiar, friendly face to regular Ogden race participants, having served as a race ambassador for the event for the past few decades in addition to hitting the streets himself as a runner in its early years.
“His contribution to running — first of all in general, and second of all specific to the Wheeling race — it’s not measurable,” Ogden Race Director R. “Scat” Scatterday said of Fleming. “He touched a lot of people’s lives. … His absence can never be filled.”
Fleming’s legendary running career included wins in the 1973 and 1975 New York City marathons. He had a pair of second-place finishes in the Boston Marathon, as well as victories in the Cleveland and Los Angeles marathons.
An alternate on the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team, Fleming had a shot to make the team for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, only to be denied the chance when the U.S. boycotted the games. He ran races in Europe, Asia and Australia and was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2014.
Through it all, Fleming — who was inducted into the Ogden Half Marathon Hall of Fame in 2005 — made Wheeling a regular stop on his itinerary for Memorial Day weekend. In fact, in an interview during race weekend in 2015, Fleming called the Ogden race, renowned for its many hills, “the hardest half marathon in the world.”
“He has stayed connected with the race for 40 years,” Scatterday said.
In more recent years, Fleming served as a finish line announcer for the Ogden race and often spent time the evening before the race sharing his knowledge and insight with young runners.
According to Scatterday, Fleming made a major impact on some of the more technical aspects of the race, as well, such as the finish line configuration.
“I could always count on him to suggest necessary improvements. … He could see things where the rest of us were not of that mindset,” Scatterday said.
Also saddened to hear of Fleming’s death was former Ogden race director Hugh Stobbs, who brought elite American road racers such as Fleming, Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers to Wheeling for the first race in 1977.
“He was quite a crowd-pleaser,” Stobbs said. “He was very outgoing with everybody, very friendly. … He was world-class, there’s no question about that.”
Stobbs said many elite runners hop on a plane back home as soon as a race is over. Not Fleming and company, he recalls with pride.
“Once they came, they always came back a second time,” he said. “They stayed two or three days because they said they enjoyed it so much.”
Fleming, a longtime resident of Bloomfield, N.J., was a teacher at the Montclair Kimberley Academy, where he served as head coach of the varsity cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams. Media reports indicate he suffered a heart attack Wednesday as he was coaching his team at a track meet.
Perry Nardo, general manager for Ogden Newspapers, said Fleming’s help was invaluable when the newspapers took over the race 15 years ago.
“Tom Fleming became an integral part of the Ogden Half Marathon Classic, first as a runner and then, over the past few decades, as one of its biggest champions and ambassadors. He spent race day talking with the fans and participants, sharing stories from his road racing exploits and talking about how, in looking back over his career, the Ogden course was always one of the toughest he encountered — especially if you didn’t scout it beforehand,” Nardo said. “We appreciate all that Tom did for the race over the years and join with his family and the entire road racing community in mourning his untimely death. He truly was one of a kind, and he will be missed.”