Young Jim Ryun's hectic life as the world record holder in track's most glamorous event began even while he was spinning off the 3:51.3 mile (see cover) he ran in Berkeley, Calif. a week ago last Sunday. During the race a souvenir hunter stole his warmup shoes. Some 45 minutes later, on his short journey from the Edwards Stadium track to the University of California dormitory in which he was billeted, he began to sample his first really heady dose of public adulation. Ryun covered the three blocks barefoot and at a full gallop, pursued closely by a mob of children and adults, and then bounded up the seven flights of stairs to his room when he found the elevator in use.
"Those people didn't want autographs," Ryun said later, shuddering slightly. "They were after pieces of clothing."
This was only the beginning of the week that was for the 19-year-old boy who had just finished his freshman year at the University of Kansas, who had just cut 2.3 seconds off the world mile record, who had become the first American in 29 years to hold that title and who had predictably emerged as one of the most exciting figures in all of sport. Before the week had ended Jim Ryun had turned down a $50-a-day offer, cautiously felt his way through some 30 interviews for press, radio and television, had shaken countless hands and had autographed two $100 bills for a pair of entranced fans. He even managed to fit in a leisurely 1:46.2 victory in the 880-yard run (his world record is 1:44.9) at the Los Angeles Times International Games in the Coliseum, the substitute for the dual meet that never was between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., a meet highlighted by two world records. Most important of all, Ryun was beginning to bring into focus the things that were happening to him now and the things that would happen in the months to come.
On the Sunday evening following his destruction of Michel Jazy's world record—not to mention his establishment of an unofficial record in the barefoot, seven-flight sprint—Ryun was handed a thick sheaf of telephone messages. Truly aghast, his first thought was to toss them all in the wastebasket. Then he reconsidered and began to work his way through the list, which included a request for telephone interviews with NBC and CBS radio in New York. Later, at the conclusion of a banquet in downtown Oakland, Ryun and two friends set off hoping to see San Francisco from the Top of the Mark and enjoy a soft drink while they gazed out at the city. Alas, Ryun's fame had not preceded him that far. "I have never heard of Jim Ryun," announced the manager as he barred the way, firmly citing a California law that forbids a cocktail lounge even to offer a minor a chair to sit in. When he returned home that night he was too tired to write an entry in his track notebook, in which he records time and distance of his training runs.
On Monday morning Ryun placed telephone calls to three papers back home, the Lawrence Daily Journal-World, The Wichita Beacon and The Kansas City Star, to discuss his record mile. Then he drove up to Sacramento with his summertime employer at The Topeka Capital-Journal, Photo Director Rich Clarkson, to assist on an assignment Clarkson was undertaking for the President's Council on Physical Fitness. They were greeted there by one Casey Conrad of the California Department of Education.
"I'm pleased to see that Jim wears glasses," Conrad remarked. "It proves he's human."
On Tuesday and Wednesday Ryun worked with Clarkson at various public schools in Sacramento, shooting pictures of the city's physical-fitness program for children. He chatted informally with the groups they encountered, was interviewed by a Sacramento paper and two local TV stations. In front of a TV camera Jim Ryun is no Johnny Carson. In one session he said, "We'll have to wait and see" no less than four times, which is amusing only in a negative sort of way. "Let's wait and see, let's wait and see," the live Jim Ryun laughingly parroted later as he watched his videotape counterpart on the television set in his motel room.
While in Sacramento, Ryun was called by a Washington group connected with the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Apparently, the mile record is worth $50 a day just for openers. Would he like to earn that sum, plus expenses, for a six-week tour of the country, extolling the virtues of fitness to high school students? The money was attractive but so was his status as an amateur athlete. "I guess not," he finally replied.
On Thursday Ryun sandwiched a flight down to Los Angeles between confrontations with TV cameras at both the Sacramento and Los Angeles airports, then settled into a dormitory at the University of Southern California with the rest of the athletes competing in the International Games. His presence triggered an endless series of incoming telephone calls to the pay station on his floor. Hefty Neal Steinhauer, the Oregon shotputter, put in the better part of a morning blocking out one persistent caller by saying that Ryun was taking a shower. "But he's been in the shower for 45 minutes," the caller wailed about the third time around. " Jim Ryun is a very clean boy," Steinhauer explained.
On Thursday night Ryun was at Disneyland when a prosperous track fan came up to shake his hand, then pulled a roll of bills from his pocket, handed Jim a crisply pressed $100 bill and asked him to autograph it.