After the race Jim Ryun sat under the stands in a corner of Detroit's Cobo Arena, drinking 7-Up, and now, as they had so many times before, the people started crowding around, asking for autographs. Ice packs were pressed against his left knee, and towels were placed under his blistered and bleeding feet. Minutes earlier Ryun had come off the last turn to nip Villanova's Marty Liquori in a 4:02.6 mile and assure Kansas the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship both schools wanted so badly. "No, they didn't hurt when I was running," Ryun said, when asked about his feet. "I had too much to think about just trying to beat Marty."
The victory, however narrow, was an especially satisfying one for Ryun. This season, as in every indoor season, there had been that nagging, frustrating injury, the sharp pain in the left knee that only got worse from the pounding on all those tight corners. His workouts had been irregular, his competition limited to a 4:06 mile early in February. But this winter, unlike those past, people were talking—about Jim Ryun not having it anymore, about Jim Ryun getting lazy since he got married, about Jim Ryun making up injuries whenever he didn't feel like running. There had even been boos at the Big Eight championships when he scratched 10 minutes before the start of the mile.
"I've gotten tired of talking about all the little things that keep popping up," Ryun said the morning of the NCAA mile. "It gets irritating to have all the trash injuries. It's tough telling people about them. I know it sounds bad, but they really are honest."
Controversy over the extent—or even the existence—of the injuries had arisen Friday night, when Ryun dropped out of the two mile after three laps. Villanova Coach Jumbo Elliott was the loudest complainant, pointing to an NCAA rule that says a competitor must give "his very best effort" in any event in which he is entered or be scratched from all remaining races. Elliott wanted Ryun kept out of the mile, claiming he had quit without sufficient cause. Elliott was also upset because Liquori had run a whole race and finished a worthless sixth.
The question became, finally, whether the games committee trusted Ryun. After one look at his feet, it did. "I'm tired of people bickering," Ryun said later. "I just wish we could have competition and let it go at that. But there are certain people who will never believe someone is telling the truth."
When the committee decided to let the meet be settled by the runners, the remaining question was whether Villanova's track championship would be enough to overcome Kansas' field championship. "Before the meet started we knew we were going to get our points," said Kansas Shotputter Karl Salb, who broke a meet record with a put of 66'8�" and led Kansas to a one-two-three sweep in the event. "The only question was how our runners would do."
Villanova, the defending champion, had granted Salb his win but had not expected to get blitzed by 13 points in the shot, nor by the 10 Kansas picked up in the long jump. Suddenly the Wildcats were 23 points down, and for them the meet hadn't even started. "You have to respect anyone with four or five good field men," Elliott had said. "No one's going to trip them when they're throwing the shot or cut in front of them on the long-jump runway. And nine times out of 10 your top fieldmen will come through. You have no assurance of that when you're running."
Villanova did have the assurance, however, of its Mighty Burner, Larry James, who was up against his nemesis, San Jose State's Lee Evans, in the 440. Every time they had raced James had lost to Evans by anywhere from one inch to one yard, and Evans had become a mental as well as a physical challenge.
"The more running I do," said James, "the more and more important I find thinking. When I'm in top condition and in against top competitors, that's when I especially think the most."
"What do you think of?" someone asked.