AUGUST 1, 1966
Spotting A framed copy of our Aug. 1, 1966, cover, a young visitor to our offices turned to her father and asked, "Why is that man hopping on one leg?" The man—who only appears to be hopping—is Jim Ryun, the greatest miler the U.S. has ever produced, though 30 years ago, at 19, he was very nearly still a boy. Note the time (a world record 3:51.3), the Berkeley track (which was cinder) and the fact that runner-up Cary Weisiger (who ran a 3:58.0) was so far behind that he's not even in the picture. Five months later Ryun was named SI Sportsman of the Year.
Today, at 49, Ryun still looks every inch a classic middle-distance runner, standing 6'3" and weighing 185, about 12 pounds more than he did on our cover. He often runs several miles a day, recently clocking a 5:53 road mile—not bad considering all the other running he's doing now. A Republican, Ryun is campaigning for Congress in Kansas's second district, aiming for the seat vacated by the incumbent, Sam Brownback, who is running for Bob Dole's seat in the U.S. Senate. A devout Christian and the father of four, Ryun says the decision to enter politics was as much his family's as his own, but he traces his political ambition to the frustration he and others felt when the 1968 Olympics were held at high altitude in Mexico City. "Politicians made that bad decision," says Ryun, who finished second in the 1,500 to an altitude-trained Kip Keino of Kenya.
Ryun has run a grassroots campaign, going door-to-door among the farms and small businesses that dot the district. It may not hurt that he is a hometown folk hero. Growing up in Kansas during an era of frightening social change, he was a comforting figure—clean-cut and polite, a throwback to less troubling times. As his coach at Wichita East High discovered, the bookish young man also possessed an astonishing capacity for hard work, sometimes running 40 440s in a single workout, supplemented by weightlifting and calisthenics. Before he turned 21, Ryun, while a student at Kansas, had set world records in the 880 yards (1:44.9), the 1,500 meters (3:33.1) and the mile (3:51.3 and 3:51.1). His national high school mile record of 3:55.3 still stands after 31 years.
Recent campaign stops included the Kansas State-Nebraska game in Manhattan, where Ryun canvassed tailgaters, and a Senior Olympic track dinner in Topeka. The demands of his latest race make it tough to remain trim. "When you're out campaigning," he notes with a chuckle, "everybody wants to feed you."