Once upon a time... the early 1970's to be specific... Western Kansas produced a string of distance runners that could take it to the big boys in Wichita and the Kansas City area. There was Chris Perez of Lakin, Keith Palmer from Lucas and Bob Christensen from Hugoton. Today I found out that Bob Christensen was killed while riding a bike on a highway near Medicine Lodge where he practiced law.
I am not going to claim that I knew Bob. I met him once and spoke to him briefly just minutes after he surprised himself and everybody at the Kansas Relays by winning the boy's mile. I remember an extremely humble, nice and surprised runner. The following day Bob would follow up his win by setting a record in winning the boy's one mile steeplechase in 4:37.9.
Western Kansas had a history of producing great distance runners. Glenn Cunningham grew up in Elkhart, set world records in the mile and won an Olympic silver medal at 1,500 meters. Wes Santee grew up in Ashland and was an Olympian and an American record holder in the mile. Both went to the University of Kansas.
The last great string of Western Kansas distance runners started with Chris Perez from Lakin. He burst upon the scene running 4:14.4 in the boy's mile and 9:19.6 in the boy's two mile at the Kansas Relays in 1971. The only problem was that the aforementioned Randy Smith beat him in both races.
The following year Perez was the favorite to win the boy's mile at the Relays only have Keith Palmer spoil the show with a surprising win. Both Perez and Palmer would end up at Kansas State. Palmer would join a handful of Kansans to break four minutes in the mile while competing as a Wildcat.
1973 would be Bob Christensen's year to take two wins at the Relays. He then went to Wichita State where he was a top flight distance runner for the Shockers. Christensen finished his education with a law degree from Washburn in Topeka.
I share this because Bob should be remembered along with a slew of tough distance runners that hailed from west of Wichita and Salina. Runners like Ted Settle of Kingman, Pete Orozco of Phillipsburg, Scott Tichenor of Paradise and Steve Hermann from LaCrosse. These runners competed against and often beat the best that Kansas had to offer.