Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Ryun Project - 10 Bring Back the Mile/Bring Back the Miler

Timing is everything.  An article appeared today quoting Jim Ryun about the importance of the mile run.  A little more than a month ago a new Facebook page began to generate some buzz in the running world.  "Bring Back the Mile" received some love from the Associated Press today.

Jim Ryun was interviewed for the article backing the efforts to bring the mile back to American track meets.  The mile disappeared in the late 1970's starting at the high school scene because the United States had decided to go to the metric system.  Americans revolted and the switch from English to metric died. 

But unfortunately the ruling body of high school sports went metric and did so in a weird way.  Instead of going to the 1500 and 3000 meter runs, the metric equivalent of the mile and 2 mile, the powers that be decided to go with the 1600 and 3200 meter runs.  Two made up distances that are not run anywhere else in the world.

The college scene did the same doing away with races in yards and going completely metric.  Gone were the 100 yard dash and the 3 mile run and in its place is 100 meters and 5000 meters.  But the NCAA wasn't stupid enough to go with the 1600 and 3200 like their high school counterparts.  Unfortunately the mile disappeared from most track meets except for the NCAA indoor season where the mile still prevails.

The mile has a symmetry about it that the 1600 or 1500 lacks.  Running a sub-4 minute mile has cache.  Since Jim Ryun first did it four other American high school boys have broken that magical barrier.  I attribute that small number to the fact that the mile disappeared from high school track meets in the late 1970's.  It was 34 years between Marty Liquori's sub-4 and Alan Webb's sub-4 in 2001.  Lukas Verzbicas became number 5 last year. 

In 1970 high school boys were training to break 4 minutes.  They were also launching an all out assault on the 2 mile record to boot.  The number of fast 2 miles between 1969 and 1979 dwarfs all other decades.  Boys were running lots of miles and running a lot of intervals on the track. 

Except for Jim Ryun, he wasn't running at all to start 1970.  He was married and working at the Topeka Capital-Journal.  He had finished a degree in photography.  His wife Ann was pregnant with their first child.  But sometime around May the running bug bit and Jim returned to running.  The hasty exit in Miami had left a bad taste in his mouth.  The 1972 Olympics were just a couple of years away and their was some unfinished business with rivals Kip Keino and the young upstart Marty Liquori.

By the fall the training had taken on a serious nature.  The comeback was on but it wasn't until November that a Sports Illustrated article surfaced announcing Jim Ryun's return to running.  I had gotten a subscription to the magazine three years before so when that issued arrived I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw the news.

It was about this time that I ran into Jim and Anne for the very first time at Allen Field House.  I can't remember if Jim was just finishing up a workout or it was after an indoor track meet.  I just remember how approachable both were and how sweet Anne was.  I was awestruck, it was like standing with rock stars.  Indeed, the mile was getting its biggest star back.

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