David Katz is one of the best in the world at what he does. In 2020, he will travel to Tokyo to take part in the Olympic Games. But he is not a champion swimmer or archer. He is instead an elite technical race director.
“They only appoint one international surveyor,” said Katz, who resides in Port Washington. “If you think about an athlete training their whole lives for the Olympics, in the arcane world of nerdy surveyors, this is the same thing.”
As the technical race director for running events all over the world, Katz makes sure that the foot races are all properly measured and managed, from the 100-meter dash to marathons. Tokyo will be the third Olympics in a row that Katz has taken part in, and his fifth overall (he also took part in Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996).
He currently serves as chairman for the USA Track & Field Road Running Technical Council and is on the technical committee of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Katz’s love for track and field goes back to his childhood. He began participating in events in junior high school, where he specialized in hurdles and long jump. He continued through high school and into college, where he set several school records as a member of the State University of New York at Fredonia track team.
He ended up in Port Washington as a science teacher at Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School. It was during this time that he became involved with the technical aspects of a race when he volunteered to organize a fundraising run in Port on Thanksgiving Day in 1976.
“There was a lot of disorganization at the time,” he said of races in the 1970s. “The courses were not measured right and timing was difficult, so I started to do some research to find better ways to handle the races. My science background spurred me to come up with solutions.”
As races became more popular over the ensuing decades, Katz increasingly found his skills in demand. Nowadays, in addition to helping out in events around the world, he serves as the finish line coordinator for the New York City Marathon and the technical director for the Long Island Marathon.
Katz is not compensated for his work at the Olympics and said the hotels he stayed in are not the best (those are reserved for the higher-ups, he noted). But there are plenty of perks. His air travel costs are paid for, and he has gotten to witness many incredible athletics feats and meet athletes such as sprinter Usain Bolt.
“He’s a nice guy, and that’s one of the things about this,” he said. “[Track & field] is a small family and you really get to know these people.”
Katz no longer runs due to injuries and often measures out the distances on bike. He said that as long as he can ride his bike, he will continue to help lay out the routes, manage the rulebook and be involved in races all over the globe.
He has already been to Tokyo once and will return to Japan two or three more times before the games to make sure everything is ready. Despite this being his fifth Olympics, he said the thrill of being there never gets old.
“It really is a great thrill and I have to pinch myself every now and then,” he said.
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.