Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Ryun Project - 8

1968 was a year unlike any other in American history.  The Vietnam War was beginning to tear the nation apart.  It was enough of a political liability that President Lyndon Johnson decided to forgo a bid for re-election.  On top of this there continued to be upheaval over civil rights that was literally incinerating urban American. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior only helped fuel the civil unrest that had been festering in America's largest cities for the last two years.  In some American inner cities the urban core has never recovered from the event in 1968.

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.

Ryun believed 3:39 would be fast enough to capture gold.  Kenyan Ben Jipcho made sure that didn't happen.  Jipcho paced his teammate Kip Keino to an unbelievably brisk opening pace.  Ryun ran smartly but by the last lap it was clear that Keino was doing what was believed to be impossible. Keino's stunning 3:34.91 broke the Olympic record.  Ryun ran one of his best races ever but his 3:37.89 was only good enough for silver.

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

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