Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Ryun Project - 9

An entire book could be written about the psychological meltdown that 1969 produced in the life of James Ronald Ryun.  His world had been altered dramatically.  Now married and entering his senior year of college his priorities were changing.   The dream of ever winning Olympic gold was quite probably dead and buried in his mind.  The world records that mattered most were already his.   Being the first man under 3:50, a nice goal, but how am I going to support my wife when I graduate college?

Running had to be an afterthought in the new life that lay ahead for Jim Ryun.  He now had a home life.  Graduation was rapidly approaching.  Ryun contemplated a career in photojournalism.  His friendship with ace photographer Rich Clarkson had sparked a desire in Ryun to follow that career path.  Take a look at some of Jim's photography and you'll know instantly that he was very talented with a camera.

Everyone wanted a piece of Jim Ryun.  The meet promoters wanted him to draw crowds.  His coach wanted him to score points.  And there in lies the rub.  Jim Ryun needed a break.  Look back at the tremendous total of quality races he ran from 1966 to 1968.  The numbers are jaw dropping.  A top miler in this day and age would run half to a third of the number of races Jim Ryun did over that same span.

A tug of war was going on between coach and athlete.  Bob Timmons needed Jim Ryun to compete.  He expected his athlete to do what he had done over his first three years at Kansas.  Ryun knew that the demands of collegiate competition was draining his talent.  He had started to listen to the likes of Dr. Jack Daniels and then there was the specter of Mexico City.  Timmie's methods hadn't produced Olympic gold.  The injuries, illness and failures in Mexico City had all but destroyed the once symbiotic relationship between athlete and coach.

Jim Ryun was burned out.  The punishing work to prepare for Mexico City had exacted an incredible toll.  The media bashing for bringing home only a silver medal left deep scars.  The demands of a no-nonsense coach were simply more than he could bare.  It finally showed itself to the public itself at the Drake Relays when Ryun stepped off the track while anchoring the sprint medley relay.
Despite that Ryun produced two victories at the Big 8 Outdoor before turning in a stellar 3:55.9 heading into the NCAA outdoor championships.  Then along came the precocious Marty Liquori who became the first American to hand Ryun a defeat at the mile distance in four years.  Jim Ryun was no longer invincible.  I can remember feeling confused as I watched the race.  The fearsome kick Ryun was known for simply wasn't there.  I think Jim Ryun was the most confused of all.

As if to put an exclamation point on it Ryun stepped off the track 2 laps into the mile at the AAU National Championship in Miami.  After the race he talked of staleness.  I think the Sports Illustrated writer who chronicled the disastrous events in South Florida put it best.  Jim Ryun needed to learn the most difficult lesson every runner must learn, how to lose.

It was heartbreaking as a huge fan of Jim Ryun to witness the events from the Olympics the previous fall to the summer meltdown in Miami.  It appeared he was ready to get on with the rest of his life.  Running was a thing a past.  Professional track did not exist and a life away from intervals and grueling tempo runs awaited.

Winter/Spring & Summer 1969

Date        Event       Time        Place       Splits
2-8-69     Mile         4:06.2      1st            NA
Michigan State Relays            East Lansing, MI
3-14-69   2 Mile      DNF
                Mile         ?              ?              ?
3-15-69   Mile         4:02.6      1st            60.0-2:03.5-3:06.2-4:02.6
NCAA Indoor Championships Cobo Arena             Detroit, MI
3-29-69   Mile         4:07.8      1st            NA
                880          1:51.0      1st            NA
K.U. vs. U.C.L.A. Dual              Los Angeles, CA
4-11-69   880          1:46.8      3rd            (anchor/sprint medley relay)
4-12-69   880          1:47.4      3rd            (anchor/2 mile relay)
Texas Relays           Austin, TX
4-18-69   Mile         4:01.2      1st            (4 mile relay)
4-19-69   Mile         3:57.6      1st            (anchor/distance medley relay) 57.8-1:58.7-3:02.0-3:57.6 World Record           
Kansas Relays         Memorial Stadium Lawrence, KS
4-25-69   Mile         4:11.0      2nd           (4 mile relay)
4-26-69   880          DNF                         (anchor/sprint medley relay)
Drake Relays           Des Moines, IA
5-3-69     3 Mile      13:29.3    1st
K.U. vs. S.I.U           Carbondale, IL
5-16-69   880          NA           1st            prelim NA
5-17-69   Mile         408.9       1st            63.0-2:06.0-3:09.0-4:08.9
880          1:48.7      1st            55.5-1:48.7
Big 8 Outdoors        Ames, IA
6-7-69     Mile         3:55.9      1st            62.3-2:010-3:00.7-3:55.9
Coliseum Relays     Olympic Coliseum Los Angeles, CA
6-19-69   Mile         4:03.4      1st            prelim 62.2-2:04.0-3:06.0-4:03.4
6-21-69   Mile         3:59.3      2nd           60.5-2:02.8-3:03.5-3:59.3
              3 Mile      DNF
NCAA Outdoor Championships               Knoxville, TN
6-28-69   Mile         2nd           4:07.7      prelim NA
6-29-69   Mile         DNF
AAU National Championships                Miami, FL

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