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A TIME TO REMEMBER: 3:51.3
Anita Verschoth
July 25, 1966
Leaving the whole world far behind him, Jim Ryun, the 19-year-old durable wonder of Kansas, smashes track's most treasured record—the mile mark that has eluded American runners for 29 years
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July 25, 1966

A Time To Remember: 3:51.3

Leaving the whole world far behind him, Jim Ryun, the 19-year-old durable wonder of Kansas, smashes track's most treasured record—the mile mark that has eluded American runners for 29 years

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It looked exactly like that. With Dyrol Burleson absent from the meet and Jim Grelle entered in the 5,000 meters, there was nobody on hand who could be considered a serious threat to Ryun. There was Tom Von Ruden of Oklahoma State with a personal best of 4:01.1; Cary Weisiger, who once did 3:56.6 but who had not been under four minutes for a couple of years; Wade Bell of the University of Oregon with a 3:59.8 to his credit; Richard Romo of the University of Texas and Pat Traynor of the Forty-Niner Track Club. "Everyone in the race has come up to me and offered to help," said Ryun. The all-American field, though not the classiest, was eminently suitable for a record attempt. Every man was interested in helping Ryun, but only so long as it would not be at the expense of his own ambitions.

Rick Romo said: "I'd like to see the record come back to the United States, and Ryun is the only guy who can do it. I talked to Jim and told him I might try to run about 1:57 for the half. He said that would be great." But Romo added, "I want to break four minutes just as bad as Ryun wants to break the world record." Rick Romo, Wade Bell and Tom Von Ruden had some secret talks. Ryun himself was unaware of the discussions that went on in the dormitory. "I don't want anyone to do anything for me that is going to jeopardize his chances to run a good time," he said. Von Ruden said: "I plan on finishing the mile, but I have been wondering. It would be interesting to see what Ryun could do with a fast pace." Von Ruden finished second to Ryun in his world-record half mile at the Track and Field Federation Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

It was Von Ruden who jumped into the lead at the sound of the gun, closely followed by Romo of Texas, then Weisiger, Ryun. Bell of Oregon and Traynor of the Forty-Niners. Von Ruden led the pack through the first quarter in a sizzling 57.7 seconds. At the start of the second lap, Romo shot ahead and took the lead. Von Ruden fell back rapidly and on the backstretch was passed by Ryun and Bell. Just before Romo reached the half-mile mark Bell took over, clocking 1:55.4 for the half, with Romo and Ryun one-tenth of a second behind. Going into the third lap Ryun passed Romo (who later reported, "When he passed me I knew he was on his way. He looked strong. He was running like a bull."). On the backstretch of the third lap Ryun tried to pass Bell, but Bell was still going strong. Then, with about 700 yards to go. Ryun broke out so fast that Bell thought. "Man. he must have an awful good kick."

The rest of the way it was Ryun alone. He passed the three-quarter mark in 2:55.3, leading Weisiger by 30 yards and leaving the others hopelessly straggling. As the stadium filled with noise. Ryun seemed to get stronger and stronger. In the homestretch he was still gathering speed, and he drove across the finish line as forcefully as if he were trying to break his way through a brick wall.

For 50 years men have been chipping away at the mile record, knocking off seconds and stealing tenths. In one brilliant run Ryun had brought the mark down 2.3 seconds, in effect beating the former record-holder Jazy—and all others—by a good 15 yards. At 1,500 meters Ryun was clocked in 3:36.1, a new American record and the third fastest time ever recorded for that distance, just half a second over Herb Elliott's world mark. After the race, when he had enough wind back in him for words, Ryun observed. "All through the race I was surprised that I felt so good, even though the splits were always two seconds faster than I had hoped. [He ran 57.9. 57.6, 59.8, 56.] I could hear the splits very well. That man nearly yelled too loud. During the first 600 yards I felt heavy, and I also felt heavy during the last quarter. But then on the homestretch I had something left for a sprint. Now I feel that I could have run even faster. When I win, I always feel as if I could have run faster."

By Sunday night, when the shouting had died and the press had stopped plying him with questions, the knee that Ryun cannot wholly trust began to bother him. He admitted that it was quite painful. "It is," he added, "the most beautiful pain I have ever had."

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