When the 5th Avenue Mile was Yuuuuge

When the Fifth Avenue Mile Was Yuuuge

In 1997 and 1998, Donald J. Trump sponsored the 5th Avenue Mile. But two years into a six-year deal, he opted out.

For Jake LaSala, mostly everything about the Fifth Avenue Mile in 1997 was business as usual. As the start-line coordinator for many of the New York Road Runners races not named the New York City Marathon, he knew how to handle the pressure of a race with multiple waves and start times. In the midst of the controlled chaos of runners gathered at 82nd Street in front of the steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—not to mention all the tourists and New Yorkers—LaSala corralled and directed runners throughout the day. He calmed eager youths itching to burst from the start line and patiently gathered masters competitors who gingerly made their way to the race course. There was a media race, too, which sometimes brought in some minor celebrities. Plus, there was the elite race, where there was bound to be a sub-four-minute mile on the men’s side, and the women were likely to dip under 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

LaSala, who today is the owner of a road racing consulting firm, was too busy to notice anything out of the ordinary—except that there was something about the start and finish line banners hanging about twelve feet above the street. Those were different this time. They normally weren’t so …

Gold.

The race had a new sponsor this year, and the signage was not the blue with white-blocked letters that had become the standard at N.Y.R.R. races. This sign was white with gold, glittery lettering that sparkled as the sign swayed in the wind. It had a graphic of a runner dressed in a suit (presumably depicting the sponsor) crossing finish-line tape with his arms raised in victory, too. The gold on white was difficult to read from far away, but it did make sense with the sponsor. In fact, it seemed like it would have fit right in at an Atlantic City casino.

The sign wasn’t something LaSala was worried about, though. The sponsor had been around the start line at one point in the day, and he had been quite pleasant. LaSala had seen some demanding celebrities in the past—like the one who needed a tent for meditation at a charity race—but this guy seemed easy, walking around in his hat, chatting and posing for pictures with runners and fans on the street.

Little did LaSala know: In about twenty years, the sponsor would be the most powerful person in the world.

That’s right, long before he became the forty-fifth president of the United States of America—and long before he said he could shoot someone on a certain avenue in New York and not lose any voters—Donald J. Trump was the title sponsor of the New York Road Runners Fifth Avenue Mile. Gold banner and all.

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