Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jim Ryun Turns 70

It's scrolled across my Facebook feed all day long.  Jim Ryun is 70.  Jim Ryun, more than any individual outside of my mother, is why I am, who I am today.  He made me a runner, he cultivated my love of sport and in an more important way, made me realize my shortcomings as a human.

You see Jim Ryun epitomized what it meant to be dedicated to the pursuit of a singular goal.  He pursued impossible, unbelievable goals, that in the end fell just short of what an entire nation expected of him.  It nearly destroyed his career, yet he had the strength few men had to return and dare to dream the dream every great runner dreams, that of winning Olympic gold.

I was a late bloomer when it came to sports. I didn't really dial into the fact that something remarkable was happening just 60 miles away from where I was growing up in Abilene, Kansas.  At Wichita East High School, Jim Ryun along with coaches, Bob Timmons and J.D. Edmiston were re-writing the rules of what was possible for a high school miler.

By 1967 I was fully aware of who Jim Ryun was and what he was doing.  I can remember watching amazed on television as he destroyed Kenya's Kip Keino in running a world record for 1500 meters at the historic Coliseum in Los Angeles.  I knew that Jim Ryun was destined for Olympic glory. 

The following summer I watched in agony as Kip Keino ran, perhaps the greatest 1500 ever run in the altitude of Mexico City to snatch Olympic gold from my hero.  Looking back at the disappointment of that day, there can be no doubt that in defeat and with his Olympic silver, Ryun had in fact run a tremendous race of his own.

I can remember in the fall of my 8th grade year running in a large vacant lot hoping that I had run approximately a mile to see what I was capable of at the distance of my hero from the University of Kansas.  It wasn't until the spring of 1969 I would travel to Lawrence to see him run in person for the first time.  His world record anchor in the Distance Medley Relay was a sort of last hurrah for what been a very difficult season for him.  His career would appear to end a couple of months later as he stepped off the track in Miami during the AAU National Championships and into retirement.

I was just beginning my track career that spring.  I wanted to be a miler.  In those days, 8th graders couldn't run more than 440 yards.  So I can remember running a mile to see what I had in me.  The coach time me and somehow I ran just under six months, a good two minutes slower than my hero.

What was happening to me was happening all over the country.  Ryun and in no lesser extent, Gerry Lindgren, sparked a distance running revolution across the nation for high school boys.  It changed the face of the sport for more than a decade before running out of steam by the dawn of the 1980's when high school coaches started paying too much attention to the pablum served up by Runner's World and not studying the challenging approach taken by athletes like Ryun and Lindgren.

I saw it in my own neighborhood where high school looming for me, a boy down the street who was a couple of years older than me and who shared a love of all things Ryun took me by the hand and led me into the world of cross country.  My path was set and running became deeply ingrained in my life. Little did a know that four years later I would be following Ryun in workouts at Kansas.  From that, two decades later I would help create the defining documentary that chronicled the great milers career.

I became a runner because of Jim Ryun, that sparked my love of sport and led me to a long career as a journalist.  In the intervening years I coached and eventually came to own a running store.  And to this day, let there be no doubt, that Jim Ryun is the greatest American miler, period.

1 comment:

  1. You captured the thoughts of many a youngster in those days. We couldn't wait to hear the results of his races. Truly a great human being.