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SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR
December 19, 1966
Jim Ryun
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December 19, 1966

Sportsman Of The Year

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Jim Ryun

In its first issue, in August 1954, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reported the duel of the original four-minute milers, Roger Bannister and John Landy, at the British Empire Games in Vancouver. Bannister won and, at the end of 1954, was named our first Sportsman of the Year.

Now, a dozen years after Dr. Bannister, another miler succeeds to his title (see cover). Jim Ryun, only 19 (he had his seventh birthday a week before Bannister ran that four-minute mile), is the youngest person ever selected as our Sportsman, but his accomplishments and, more significantly, his attitude toward them are strikingly mature. Much was expected of Ryun after track followers became aware of him in the spring of 1963 when, as a 16-year-old high school sophomore, he ran the mile in 4:08.2. He has more than fulfilled these expectations. At 17 he became the first high school boy to break four minutes and he made the U.S. Olympic team. At 18 he defeated the redoubtable Peter Snell, then the world record holder, in a 3:55.3 mile, fastest ever run by an American. At 19 he reached the acme of achievement. On May 13, competing in a two-mile race for only the second time in his career, he did 8:25.2, the third fastest two-mile ever run. On June 4 he ran the mile in 3:53.7, a tenth of a second off Michel Jazy's world record, and was startled by the time because he knew he had not nearly approached his maximum effort. On June 10 he dropped down to the half mile and set a new world record of 1:44.9. And on July 17 he broke Jazy's mile record by almost two and a half seconds when he ran 3:51.3. It was an astounding performance. If Jazy, Snell and Herb Elliott had run their world-record times in that race they would have finished between 15 and 25 yards behind young Ryun. Roger Bannister would have been 60 yards behind him.

Yet, for all his signal triumphs, Ryun, like Bannister, recognizes that sport is only one aspect of life, that while the success one aims at and achieves in sport is worth the discipline and the effort and the anguish, it is not the be-all and end-all of living. There are other things to do. Bannister's prime off-track interest was—and is—medicine. Ryun's, at the moment, is photography, and he works at it professionally during the summer and in his hours off from classes at the University of Kansas. One Tuesday this past July he stood for more than two hours with other photographers in a concrete bin in the stands behind home plate in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, shooting baseball's All-Star Game in searing 105� heat. Five days later, when spectators who had been at the game were still complaining about the temperature, he ran his world-record mile.

The adulation that has come to him is no prize to Ryun. He is wary of strangers who greet him effusively, and he delights in the rare moments when he can be an anonymous face in the crowd. Ryun enjoys what he is doing for the thing itself, for the joy of it, for the satisfaction. Like Bannister or Jazy or Snell or Elliott or any of the great runners, he is familiar with the body's rebellion against agonizing usage, and familiar, too, with the discipline of the spirit and the mind. But he rejects the idea that training and competition are a kind of self-torture. Running the mile, even a world-record mile, is still basically fun. "Too much is made of the pain stuff," Ryun said last summer. "Running doesn't hurt that much. I've tried to explain to people that there is more satisfaction than pain in a hard workout, but I guess too many of them can't understand that work can be satisfying. If running hurt as much as people seem to think it does, I wouldn't go out on the track in the first place."

FOUR OTHERS WHO EXCELLED

Frank Robinson

The big moment of the 1966 baseball season came at 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. There seemed to be a ho-hum attitude in the big crowd, a sense of oh well, the Dodgers will knock these Baltimore bums over in four straight and then we can get on to our other neuroses, the Rams and Lakers. When Russ Snyder walked with one out in the top of the first inning it caused not even a stir. Frank Robinson ambled slowly to the batter's box and smoothed the earth in front of the plate. Despite a year in which he had led the American League in hitting, homers and runs batted in, he received only token applause. Don Drysdale's first pitch was a ball. His second pitch was a fast ball that Robinson leaned on and drove into the $12 seats in left field. Once more Frank Robinson had produced the "first-inning lightning" for which he had become famous during the year.

The first flash of it came on March 15, when Hank Bauer wrote Robinson's name on the lineup card in right field for an exhibition game with the Washington Senators. First inning, Robby's first at bat. Whack! And the ball disappeared over the fence in left field. In Boston on Opening Day he got hit by a pitch in the first inning and scored on a homer by Brooks Robinson for the first run of the Oriole season. In the first inning of the season's second game he homered. The first game that he played before the fans in Baltimore he homered; the first time he entered Yankee Stadium as an Oriole he drove in the winning run. At home, before the biggest crowd in Baltimore's baseball history, he became the first man ever to hit a ball completely out of the park. To become the first player since 1956 to win the Triple Crown, Robinson spent a lot of time concentrating on himself, but he also spent countless hours helping young Oriole players, and his sense of humor eased them over many pressure spots. He played much of the season with a right knee that needed an operation, yet he kept this a secret until after the season was over. Without Frank Robinson the Orioles had been consistent contenders in recent years. With him they became champions of the world.

Jack Brabham

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