There is no byline in American journalism over the past two decades more synonymous with the sport of running than Dick Patrick of USA Today.
Since 1986, Patrick has travelled the world for USA Today bringing readers the stories of the people and events that have mattered to the sport.
That 23-year voyage - as Patrick calls “his dream job” - ended Tuesday when Patrick was one of a few dozen editorial staff members cut at USA Today.
“It was a reduction of force - 37 people between the paper and Sunday magazine,” Patrick said from his Vienna home Saturday. “The state of the [newspaper] industry is unfathomable. Since ‘07, it has been on a fast-forward downward spiral. I can’t believe how rapidly the business has gone down.”
Patrick said he hopes to continue to cover running and track and field.
“Maybe it won’t necessarily be an end of an era, but I am hoping to find a way to chronicle the people and the sport,” said Patrick, 59. “I don’t know if there is any viability in newspapers anymore. I do think there are online opportunities.
“And I think the best opportunity to do that is a Web site. Possibly ESPN, [Sports Illustrated]. If ABC were to get the 2012 Olympics and ESPN.com would cover the Olympic sports - and track and distance running in particular - there could be some opportunities for me. Right now, their Web sites don’t do much with the Olympics, but they would go big-time if they got the Olympics.”
Patrick’s foray into sports writing came by chance in 1975, two years after graduating from Hamilton College in New York. Out of school, he worked for an ad agency but lost his job when the agency lost two major accounts.
“I said I need to get into something I am passionate about, and that was sports,” Patrick said.
He proceeded to send out 150 letters and got an interview with the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, N.Y., covering what most sports writers do not desire covering - the sport of running.
“Most sports writers are not into running, and I was all too interested to cover the sport,” Patrick said. He said he spent five years in Geneva, a short stint in Binghamton, N.Y., and then landed a job at the Rochester (N.Y.) Times Union.
His big break occurred in 1986, when he relocated to the District to work for USA Today.
“All on a trial basis - all I was guaranteed was three months,” he said. “It turned into 23 years and the ride of my life.”
Looking back, Patrick said he has fond memories of his first world championships in Rome - “an eye-popping event that exceeded expectations” - and the 1988 world cross country championships in Auckland, New Zealand. He said he is particularly fond of Boston Marathon week - “It’s like a convention for runners,” he said - and he enjoyed covering Meb Keflezighi’s New York City triumph last month, the first American male winner there since Alberto Salazar, whose first of three victories he covered in 1980.
His worst moment: covering the death of Ryan Shay at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City in 2007.
Of his 23 years with USA Today, Patrick said: “I never took it for granted. I appreciated every trip, from 1988 and my first Olympics to my last Olympics in Beijing. I knew I wouldn’t go on forever, but I didn’t imagine the newspaper industry would be in such dire straits.”
Patrick said the calls are coming in with job potentials, but he still is concerned.
“I feel like a runner who was dropped by a sponsor in a nonchampionship season,” he said.