Bob Bondurant, a former sports journalist who advised thousands of America’s greatest athletes on the track and stage, died of cancer on May 25 at his home in Greenbelt, Md. He was 88.
Steve Bainbridge, the special assistant to Bondurant, said his boss did not die of natural causes. Bainbridge said Bondurant died three days after his longtime friend David Dill, a former sprint champion and coach who died at his home in March at age 98.
Among Bondurant’s many achievements was putting together the track team that recently sent two sisters, Lillie and Doris Cherry, to the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. The Cuties – who stand 4 feet 6 and 4 feet 10, respectively – would qualify for the qualifying trials for the men’s team in only their second year of track.
Steve Jr., Doris’s husband, Doug and father-in-law Bill Cherry were on the original Olympic team for that event.
Robert J. Bondurant was born on March 16, 1928, in Troy, New York, the only son of Adolph Bondurant, a journalism professor at Lehman College, and Margaret Laramie. He attended Saratoga High School, graduated in 1948 and was drafted by the Army, with plans to attend Cornell but instead served in a military medical base in England.
When the U.S. Olympic Committee called in 1950, Bondurant was the first white person to receive a call, and he began work as a technical writer for the Amateur Athletic Union. In 1957, he began a long stint in New York City, working for the sportscaster Harry Chandler and as a commentator for the world indoor soccer championships.
The interest in training before and after sports had taken off, and there was little room on the track and tennis courts for all the nation’s athletes. Racing cars was a matter of having the skills, the patience and the knowledge to understand how to manipulate the whole machinery. — Bob Bondurant
Bondurant went on to become a contributing editor at Runner’s World, a magazine for runners, from 1972 to 1984, and also wrote an autobiography, The Pitch: Inside Bob Bondurant’s Corner Office, published in 1988. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cornell.
Although he continued to be a tireless promoter of speed, he had to stop in his tracks when it came to sports he did not love, such as baseball and football. He also disliked golf and rugby. His neighbors at Meadowbrook Country Club in Rockville, Md., recently renamed the golf course Bob Bondurant Golf & Country Club.
“At the end of the day when I was throwing strikes against the New York Yankees, and they were throwing curveballs, I was glad to be done,” he told the New York Daily News in 2004.
In a lengthy 2008 profile in Runner’s World, Bondurant reflected on some of his favorite memories.
“Maybe the excitement and high of competing in New York, or at mile 10 when the runner took off into the blue sky, was to me, I realized, too, the thrill of facing the cheers of the streets and watching the worldwide TV audience watching in the United States, Europe and Asia,” he said. “Maybe it was to be the first U.S. citizen to reach the Australian peak, or to be the first to race through 100 countries in three decades, or to fall out of a car and break my leg on the night of the race. Or to win at worlds, because there were no free passes.”
When he started in athletics, Bondurant was unprepared for anything but serious competition. But, as time went on, he warmed to the idea of education. His fame grew as the Olympics grew larger and larger in importance.
“The interest in training before and after sports had taken off, and there was little room on the track and tennis courts for all the nation’s athletes,” he told Runner’s World in 2002. “Racing cars was a matter of having the skills, the patience and the knowledge to understand how to manipulate the whole machinery. The Olympics represented worldwide participation in one of the hardest sports at the time.”