A few feet away, tiny Cuthbert Bayi was emitting car-curdling shrieks, and Walker was peering again at the odd autograph he had received from Ryun. Above his name Ryun had written "Go with God" and beneath it "John" and the numbers "3:3-8." Other runners had written their world-record mile times beneath their names, but Ryun's figure was too fast for any 20th-century mile; could it be, Walker wondered, Ryun's best time in the 1,500? No, it was a passage from the Gospel According to John in which Jesus declares, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Several seats away sat Ryun, his old haunted look gone. He was locked in conversation with Cram, taking up the Englishman's offer to host Ryun's family at Cram's home in a week or two, agreeing how fortunate Cram was to have had countrymen Coe and Ovett drawing everyone's eyes during his years of ripening and how unlucky Ryun was to have assumed the yoke of America's hopes as a teen. Ryun is a little thicker now and wears hearing aids in both ears to correct a 50% hearing loss he suffered as a child, but the light in his eyes makes him more handsome than ever. His job, which takes him to schools for the hearing-impaired across the U.S. as a representative of a hearing-aid firm named Resound, allows him to appear in road races all over the country and also to tell the tale of his religious conversion before Christian groups.
Having twice set world records by age 20, Ryun had seen his life swirl ever downward after he lost the 1,500 to Kip Keino in the high-altitude 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He quit in the middle of several races, was savaged by the U.S. press, stopped running altogether and finally regathered himself for atonement at the '72 Munich Games. His times, as he prepared, remained erratic, the yoke yet too heavy, the joy still not there.
"I'll never forget that day after he ran a 4:19 mile and finished last in Los Angeles in the spring of '72," said his wife, Anne. "He walked out of the stadium, slammed his spikes against a tree and started screaming. I'd never seen such rage in Jim."
Brought up by a strict father in a fundamentalist Christian church, forbidden to attend dances or movies, Ryun had grown into a young man so bound by duty to meet others' expectations that each sigh of disappointment from the world after each race in which he failed to rebreak the world record had crushed him. "And then," he said, "in May of 1972, I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, and for the first time in my life I had the feeling that God loved me because of me, not because of my accomplishments. I felt elated. At the Olympic trials I felt so light that I threw up my arms 10 yards before the finish and had to throw them up again! Then I went to Toronto, and on a track that was like asphalt, with the closest runner 18 seconds behind me, I ran a 3:52 mile—the third-fastest mile ever. A new dimension inside of me was being tapped. For the first time I was relaxed. Everything was right. And then, in the prelim in Munich, I was tripped, and the official [on the appeals committee] who could've reinstated me for the final refused to, and that was it. I had to retire from amateur running then to work and raise my family."
Ryun needed years to overcome his bitterness, to forgive the official; he knew that he had done so only when the man's image flashed up on the big screen as Ryun sat in the stands during the 1984 Olympics, and he felt...nothing. "I was released," he said.
"Now he runs to spread the word of Christ," said Anne. "He has found a peace that he never felt when he was breaking world records."
ELLIOTT: When I wanted to quit in training, I used to visualize a competitor on my shoulder. And I'd think, I'd rather die than let this person beat me.
IBBOTSON: I used to picture a tall shandy. That's beer and lemonade, in case you don't know.
SNELL: I used to picture handicapped people, people with crutches and wheelchairs, and ask myself. What right do you have to complain about this pain?