But intense as it is, Ryun's interest in track has been acquired so recently that Timmons thinks one of the most important steps in preparing Ryun for the Olympic trials is to make him comprehend the importance and the significance of the Olympic Games themselves. Ryun readily acknowledges that in 1960 he cared nothing about the Olympics simply because he was only 13 and had never heard of them.
It was not until the spring of 1962 that Ryun, then attending Curtis Junior High School in Wichita, had a try at track. Since he lacked sprinting speed, he went out for the longest available event, the 440-yard dash, but his best time of 58.5 was hardly spectacular. The next fall he entered East High and again went out for track. He impressed no one immediately, least of all Coach Timmons.
"I didn't even know how to spell his name for the first part of the season," Timmons recalls. "I thought it was Ryan or Rhine or Rhone or something like that. So did a lot of people for a while. But somewhere along midseason he worked his way onto the B cross-country team, and when we went to Shawnee Mission for an invitational meet, Jim took first place. After that he moved quickly up to the A squad, and about a month later he placed sixth in the Class A state meet."
Within five months Timmons realized that he had the makings of a real star. Jim won the second competitive mile he ever ran in a respectable 4:26.4.
"After that race," Timmons recalls, "I took Jim aside and told him that eventually he would be a four-minute miler, and that I hoped he would be the first high school boy to break four minutes. But you don't just happen to reach a great goal. You plan, you work. From that second meet on, I urged Jim to think not like a high school sophomore but like a four-minute miler."
Timmons, a short, energetic man, laid out a strenuous routine for Ryun. On a typical day, Ryun would get up at 5 in the morning and carry papers over a 12-block route. Then he would go home, put on running togs and jog at least six miles through the streets. In the afternoon he would work on the track, either before or after delivering his papers. Ryun will not discuss it now, but in his early running days he confided to Coach Timmons that he often grew discouraged, especially on rainy, cold and snowy mornings, running through the streets with no one to cheer him or care, no one to watch him except an occasional early riser who looked upon him as a freak.
As he started to improve, Ryun became desperately fearful that he might give evidence of conceit. In an airplane on the way to Modesto, Calif. in May, he fell into conversation with the stewardess and told her where he was going. By coincidence he encountered the same girl on the way back after he had pressed O'Hara and Burleson and run a 4:01.7 mile, almost two seconds faster than any school boy had ever run the distance.
"How did you do?" the girl asked.
"I finished third," Ryun told her, with no elaboration.
Since the Olympic trials early in July, where he finished fourth behind Burleson, O'Hara and Grelle, Ryun has taken it easy just one week—when he ran only 40 miles. He has been doing 106 miles a week since then.