Peter Pfitzinger, MBA ’82:
The long distance CEO
The secret to becoming a world-class athlete,
Peter Pfitzinger will tell you, is managing your
recovery well. “Everyone trains hard,” he says.
“But the key is knowing where that edge is, knowing just how far to push.” Pfitzinger knows of
what he speaks: in 1984, and 1988, he was the top American marathoner in the Los Angeles and
Seoul Olympics; he has a masters in exercise physiology; he’s written two books on competitive
running, Advanced Marathoning and Road Racing for Serious Runners; and for the past six years
he’s been the CEO of the New Zealand Academy of Sport, North Island, a government-funded
organization with the mission of helping elite Kiwi athletes meet their fullest potential on the
international stage. (Pfitzinger’s wife, Chrissey, also a former Olympian distance runner, is a
native New Zealander.)
In the early eighties, when Pfitzinger was training for the Olympic trials as an MBA student at Cornell, logging an average of 120 miles a week, he says his understanding of the science of conditioning was relatively unsophisticated. “We knew to eat a lot of carbs, but it didn’t go much further than that,” he says. The support offered by NZASNI, he adds, shows just how much the infrastructure around elite athletes has grown in recent years. Working within an $8 million annual budget, the organization provides over 500 athletes — from up-and-comers to national treasures like gold medal-winning shot-putter Valeri Vili and world champion rower Mahé Drysdale — such services as strength and conditioning training, nutritional advice, access to sports psychologists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and sports doctors, as well as mentors who help athletes cope with the day-to-day challenges of balancing training, jobs, and relationships.
Since its inception a decade ago, this laboratory of sorts has been paying impressive
dividends. In the 2000 Sydney Games, Kiwi athletes brought home four medals; in Beijing two
years ago, they brought home nine. Curious to learn “what little New Zealand might be up to,”
Pfitzinger says that sports officials from other countries have been coming to talk with our
people, eager to see what they can take back to their own programs.
The government of New Zealand’s stated goal for the 2012 Games in London is 10 medals, at least. If that goal is reached, the organization’s funding will continue unabated; if not — well, some big questions may have to be asked. To Pfitzinger, ever the competitor, the high stakes seem only right.
“The athletes and coaches deal with that kind of pressure every day,” he says.