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The line for the mile forms here
Skip Myslenski
February 17, 1969
Jim Ryun is alive but married, and rival runners see a gleam of hope
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February 17, 1969

The Line For The Mile Forms Here

Jim Ryun is alive but married, and rival runners see a gleam of hope

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Outwardly it's all the same—the wobbling head, the great strides and the arms going like a child's uppercuts. But inside, Jim Ryun is different. "For several years running has been No. 1 in my life," he says. "But now being a good husband and making a good marriage have become No. 1."

The new Jim Ryun ran for the first time since the Olympic Games last Saturday night, winning the open mile at the Michigan State Relays in an ordinary 4:06.2. He was smiling afterward, as he was when he turned the last corner of his 55-second final quarter. "It's really not a conscious thing," he said later. "I'm not doing it to suggest I look great running out there, It's a natural reaction, some type of mental release. But, yes, the race did feel good. I know I say this every year but I was surprised at how strong I really did feel. Nothing should be that easy."

Despite the ease with which he won, the race was one Ryun did not feel particularly prepared for. As he said before the meet, "There was a lot of planning to do for the wedding—and I wouldn't change that—so there was just no way I could train regularly."

It was his marriage three weeks ago that, more than anything, transformed Ryun. Now, instead of talking only of track, his conversation touches on other, more domestic concerns. There are the problems of money, of setting up a new apartment—even of eating. During the week Ryun is at Kansas, his wife at Kansas State, where she is finishing her final month of studies. "That means I get good cooking only on weekends," he says. "The rest of the time I have to cook for myself."

Moreover, marriage has given Ryun a new perspective on track. "The trouble with me before was that I would think of nothing but running," he says. "As soon as the 1964 Olympics were over, I started planning for 1968. Now I don't do that. I haven't yet sat down and fixed in my mind any goals for the coming season. I haven't even set any private goals. Maybe after I graduate I will settle in business and quit running altogether. I'm taking track more on a day-to-day basis. You know that time I had off? I really enjoyed it. Honestly, I just wish it could have been longer."

While Ryun was vacationing and reevaluating, two other runners were spending their weekends trying to get out from under the Jim Ryun shadow that has long obscured lesser American milers. The first, Sam Bair of Kent State, has been more successful on paper, winning five straight indoor miles before finishing fifth at Baltimore this past weekend. But it is the second, 19-year-old Villanova sophomore Marty Liquori, who is the more likely heir apparent.

Bair is the 5'6", 126-pound chap who pops up each winter on the indoor circuit. With his compact frame he can accelerate on the tight corners while taller runners have to stutter-step, and last year Bair won seven races. However, his lack of stature ultimately hinders him. "I have to realize," he says, "that no matter how much I train, if someone like Ryun is in top shape, there is no way I can keep up with him." As a result, Bair's best time—a 3:58.6 in the 1967 National AAUs—got him only sixth place behind Ryun's world-record 3:51.1.

"All I need to do," Bair says, resignedly, "is look at myself and my physical assets and at some of the others and their physical assets, and there is no way I can kid myself. But still, I'll always be there. I may end up far in the background, but I'm not ever going to be an also-ran. People are going to know I'm there." They do. Bair has become something of a celebrity in his home town of Scottdale, Pa., ranking right up there with Eddie Gray, who plays guitar for Tommy James & the Shondells.

Marty Liquori has been a star since his senior year at Essex Catholic in Newark, when he became the third high-schooler (after Ryun and Tim Daniel-son) to break four minutes for the mile, running a 3:59.8. Unlike Bair, Liquori has the assets—and an obsession. "Track is the most important part of my life," he says.

Frank Murphy, a Villanova teammate who has run a 3:58.6 mile himself, agrees. "I wish I were as dedicated as Marty," he says. "But sometimes I think he takes it all too seriously." Indeed, a sign above the desk in Liquori's dormitory room reads: THEY ARE ABLE BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY ARE ABLE. SKILL TO DO COMES OF DOING—SO DO IT.

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