The political upheaval was even more dramatic. A gunman took the life of peace candidate Robert F. Kennedy at a Los Angeles hotel. It helped fuel a frenetic riot that nearly consumed the Democratic Convention in Chicago where the big city, strong armed tactics of Mayor Richard Dailey created a nightly televised drama that shocked America and would eventual help turn our one time raucous political conventions as nothing more than infomercials filled with pablum.
America needed a distraction by the time the Summer Olympics in Mexico City rolled around but not without a whole set of side issues of its own. Black athletes talked of boycotting the Olympics because of the ongoing civil rights problems in America. Mexico City's altitude was creating a stir as scientists debated the dangers of competing in such thin air.
That debate only contributed to a growing schism between Jim Ryun and his coach Bob Timmons. Ryun was beginning to listen to Dr. Jack Daniels, a noted exercise physiologist who was gaining a reputation as an up and coming running coach. Daniels knew Ryun needed to train at high altitude to help him adapt to the conditions in Mexico City. He also knew that the talented miler needed to cut back on the exhausting schedule of training and racing.
During the indoor season Ryun attempted a daunting back to back sub-4 minute mile passing the test the first night in New York City but fell short the following night in East Lansing, Michigan.
Then he completed a historic double at the NCAA indoor championships where he defeated the great Gerry Lindgren over 2 miles and captured the mile crown as well. A nagging leg injury followed keeping him out of the early outdoor meets.
By the time the Big 8 Outdoor had rolled around the wheels were literally falling off. Ryun was complaining of fatigue and tried to beg off the mile/880 double in Boulder's thin air. Timmons in his typical approach to such a lament scolded his young superstar attributing his problems to just "being in his head." It turns out Jim Ryun had contracted mononucleosis. Fortunately for coach and runner the Olympic Trials were scheduled nearly two months later than normal. The great miler would have time to recuperate from his illness and begin the intense training at altitude needed to compete at Mexico City.
The Trials produced one final scare. Ryun first attempted to qualify in the 800 meters, an event in which he held the world record. After a strong opening 400 Ryun flamed out failing to break 2 minutes in the thin air of South Lake Tahoe. But the 1500 turned out to be a different story as Jim sealed the deal with a 50.8 final 400 to capture the victory and a spot on the greatest U.S. Olympic Track and Field team ever assembled.
I remember watching the race heartbroken by the outcome. It didn't seem possible. Just the year before I had sat glued to the TV watching Ryun blow Keino to pieces and set a world record at 1500 meters. The stars seemed aligned. The United States would have its first gold medalist in the event in 60 years. The events of Mexico City were crushing for this young fan.
The repercussion after the race spread far beyond my little world in Abilene, Kansas. The race resulted in the myth that Ryun had choked. He was labeled by a fickle sports press as a failure. The consensus seemed to be that he had succumbed to the Olympic pressure. The truth is that Jim Ryun had overcome incredible odds and run a remarkable race to secure that silver medal. But the fallout from Mexico City would linger for a very long time.
Winter/Spring & Summer 1968
Date Event Time Place Splits
2-1-68 Mile 4:07.3 1st 62.5-2:05.5-3:08.5-4:07.3
2 Mile 8:48.5 1st 66.0-2:12.2-3:17.7-4:24.0-5:30.0-6:39.0-7:46.0-8:48.5
S.I.U. vs. K.U. Dual Allen Field House Lawrence, KS
2-9-68 Mile 3:57.5 1st 61.2-2:02.4-3:00.5-3:57.5
USTFF Madison Square Garden New York City, NY
2-10-68 Mile 4:03.4 Mile NA
Michigan State Relays East Lansing, M
2-15-68 1000 yds 2:10.7 1st NA
Oklahoma State/Colorado/K.U. Triangle Allen Field House Lawrence, KS
3-2-68 Mile 4:05.5 1st 60.5-2:03.0-3:03.3-4:05.5
2 Mile 9:00.8 1st 67.8-2:15.5-3:25.0-4:34.8-5:44.0-6:50.0-7:57.7-9:00.8
Big 8 Indoor Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
3-16-68 2 Mile 8:38.9 1st NA
Mile 4:06.8 1st NA last 440 54.7
NCAA Indoor Championships Cobo Arena Detroit, MI
4-20-68 1500 3:42.8 1st 63.7-2:04.8-3:04.7-3:42.8 last 220 26.3
Kansas Relays Memorial Stadium Lawrence, KS
4-26-68 880 1:48.2 1st (2 mile relay)
880 1:49.3 1st (anchor/sprint medley relay)
4-27-68 Mile 4:07.0 1st NA
Drake Relays Des Moines, IA
5-4-68 2 Mile 8:50.1 1st 64.2-2:09.0-3:17.7-4:26.5-5:34.0-6:41.0-7:49.9-8:50.1
S.I.U vs. K.U. Memorial Stadium Lawrence, KS
5-11-68 880 1:46.7 1st 51.1:52.6
West Coast Relays Fresno, CA
5-17-68 880 1:54.0 2nd prelim NA
5-18-68 Mile 4:10.3 1st NA
880 1:50.9 1st NA
Big 8 Outdoors Boulder, CO
7-26-68 880 1:47.9 1st 25.2-53.2-1:20.5-1:47.9
All-Comers Flagstaff, AZ
8-10-68 Mile 3:55.9 60.5-2:00.73:00.8-3:55.9
Olympic Tune-Up Walnut, CA
8-23-68 Mile 3:59.0 61.8=2:03.5-3:04.2-3:59.0
Olympic Tune-Up Eugene, OR
8-31-68 1500 3:43.0 1st NA
Olympic Tune-Up South Lake Tahoe, CA
9-9-68 800 1:50.3 4th heat 57.8-1:50.3
9-10-68 800 1:48.2 2nd semi-finals 55.4-1:48.2
9-11-68 800 2:02.6 7th 52.8-2:02.6
9-14-68 1500 3:58.3 1st heat 70.1-2:18 last 440 52.8
9-15-68 1500 3:53.0 1st semi-finals last 440 52.0
9-16-68 1500 3:49.0 1st 67.8-2:13.6 last 880 1:50.8 last 440 50.8
Olympic Trials South Lake Tahoe, CA
10-18-68 1500 3:45.7 1st heat NA
10-19-68 1500 3:51.2 1st semi-finals NA
10-20-68 1500 3:37.2 2nd NA
Olympic Games Mexico City, Mexico