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He Takes Boredom Out of 26.2 Miles : Marathon: Race director Mansoor has orchestrated unique events. Sunday's Disneyland run should be no exception.

March 22, 1995|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — If you know Disneyland, and we think you do, you know those folks aren't going to settle for 26.2 boring miles in staging their first marathon. They wanted fun, flair, innovation, and John Mansoor was the one to pull it all together.

You might not know Mansoor, 39, a former track and field athlete at Ohio State and an accomplished road racer, but you might know his handiwork.

He's the race director who decided no marathon in San Francisco would be complete without starting on the Golden Gate bridge.

He believed a race along the historic gold rush route from Folsom Dam to the State Capitol in his hometown of Sacramento would be attractive to runners looking for fast times.

This year, he persuaded skeptical network television bigwigs that with the right names and a bit of gambling, an indoor track meet in Reno could be a smash.

Mansoor certainly has the resume to create a memorable image for the first Disneyland Marathon, which begins at the park's entrance at 7 a.m. Sunday. Disneyland wanted an attractive marathon to go with a 5-kilometer race, and Mansoor came through.

In addition to a start and finish at the park, the course takes marathon runners on a two-lap course of Anaheim. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a big deal, with all those business parks and hotels and motels around Disneyland.

But Mansoor wondered what it would be like if runners were met by the Mighty Ducks' cheerleaders, the Decoys, when they passed The Pond. Then he looked at Anaheim Stadium and wondered if runners could take a tour along the warning track with their mugs shown on the video scoreboard.

Voila.

Something different.

"In future years, we'd like to build that into a big party at the stadium," Mansoor said. "We wanted to do unique things. That Disneyland is involved is unique enough . . . "

What's more, Orange County had been without a marathon since 1991.

This time, a major county race is in better hands. Mansoor's credentials are impeccable. He has been in the race-directing racket for 13 years, since overseeing the San Francisco Marathon and the California International Marathon in Sacramento. He also has been the national administrator for long-distance running for USA Track and Field, and director of the Golden West Invitational high school track meet and will run the national outdoor track and field championships later this year in Sacramento.

Each race, each meet, presents a different challenge. In San Francisco, taking in the city's landmarks--the Golden Gate, Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown--along the citywide course proved to be a nightmare logistically and yet the race's greatest attraction. In Sacramento, the lure of a personal-best time was the prime attraction. In Reno, the odds captured the attention of track nuts, casual fans and TV executives. Gambling on track in Europe is common but unheard of in this country.

"I knew that gambling would get the interest of the casual fan," Mansoor said. A casino ran odds, took bets and that was only part of the meet's success.

"I borrowed the Chicago Bulls' pregame show for our opening ceremonies," Mansoor said. "I borrowed a mascot. I had cheerleaders. I stole from all the sports."

To top it off, Jackie Joyner-Kersee set an American record in the 50-meter hurdles and Michael Johnson broke the world record in the 400 meters.

"Icing on the cake," Mansoor said.

Mansoor said the Disneyland race might move to a fall date in the future because of its proximity to the Los Angeles Marathon, held earlier this month. The date apparently was picked to attract runners from Japan, who are in the midst of a spring holiday.

At the same time, he wants to court county runners. He believes they are the cornerstone to the race's success.

"We want people here to be proud of this race," he said. "I know from doing this for 13 years that unless a community embraces the event it's going to be in trouble. This is going to be an Orange County event, so that's important."

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