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H.D. Thoreau Jr.; was authority on track

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jon Thurber
Los Angeles Times / January 2, 2008

LOS ANGELES - H.D. Thoreau Jr., who used his meticulous passion for statistics and his love of athletics to become a leading track-and-field authority as well as an influential Olympic official, has died. He was 84.

Mr. Thoreau, the co-commissioner for track-and-field events at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, died Saturday of complications from Alzheimer's disease and a stroke at a hospice in Palo Alto, Calif., said his son David.

For the 1984 Games, Mr. Thoreau oversaw the renovation of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum facilities that included the installation of the composition track with new curbs for better drainage and safer running. Those competing in field events found longer runways in the pole vault, long jump, and triple jump. And, reflecting Mr. Thoreau's passion for statistics, the historic peristyle end contained some of the best scoreboards then available.

Born in Denver, Mr. Thoreau moved with his family to Southern California as a boy. At 9, he attended his first Olympics, the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. Enthralled with baseball as a young man but not a gifted athlete, he used his ability with numbers to keep track of team sports. He would eventually apply that gift to track and field.

After graduating from high school in Pasadena, Calif., Mr. Thoreau - a distant cousin of writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau - completed two years at Stanford University before serving in US Army Intelligence during World War II. After the war, he completed his degree at Stanford, majoring in journalism. He was president of his graduating class in 1947.

In the early 1950s, he went to work in New York for the NCAA, where he was one of the early editors of the NCAA college sports guides, according to his son.

Mr. Thoreau returned to Southern California and found work as director of sports information for the University of Southern California. In 1956, his career took a turn when California state officials appointed him general manager of the 1960 Winter Olympics at California's Squaw Valley, the first Winter Games held in the western United States. As general manager, he oversaw construction of many of the facilities.

"That was four years of the hardest work I've ever done," Mr. Thoreau once told the Times. "And I never did learn to ski or skate."

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