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For Jim Ryun it has begun again. Nearly 19 months have passed since he stepped off the track in Miami and into a self-imposed exile—and then, suddenly, last week in San Francisco, it was as if he had never been away. For there he was, on the track at the Cow Palace, in the familiar pink and blue of the University of Kansas ghosting along in fourth place, and after only two laps of the mile run the old magic was gripping the crowd, and upstairs a man was gripping his son and shouting, "Freddie, don't you miss a minute of this. By God, that's the old Jim Ryun running."
No, Freddie, not the old Jim Ryun. That fellow out there, he buried the old Jim Ryun back in Miami in June of 1969. "The Jim Ryun of a few years ago is dead as of today," he said then. "There has to be a new Jim Ryun. I have to exemplify my new self, not the old one. I'm anxious to compete, but if I don't get over this pressure I put on myself, this fear of losing, I may never step on a track again. And right now I just don't know how to do that."
On the eve of the race Ryun sat in one of those delicate little San Francisco restaurants, alternately chewing on beef wrapped in thin crisp pancakes and on the reason for his return to competition. Half of the reason, his wife Anne, sat beside him. The other half, Heather DeKlyn Ryun, was celebrating her seven-month birthday in the nearby apartment of Anne's sister Susan.
Ryun began by speaking of that day in Miami when he quit in the middle of a race, picked up his sweats and went home to Kansas. "To have stopped running at that point may have been the best thing that ever happened to me," he said. "No, not in quitting that way. That would never be right and I'll never quit again. But I had to stop something that had been wrong for a long time. I didn't enjoy running that year. My mental attitude was bad. I had to stop it."
But why? Why in the middle of a race? Why not before or after?
Ryun shook his head. "I don't know. I didn't even know I was doing it. All of a sudden I just found myself off the track. It was a nightmare."
At home the pressure was off, but he was uneasy. He had stopped running, but his competitive juices had not. He and Anne took long walks at night. They discussed a comeback. She said if that was what he wanted, then that was what she wanted. He began putting his running career into a new perspective.
"People had always put me up on some sort of pedestal," Ryun said. "Made me some sort of a, uh, super-something. And then they'd say, oh, how terrible, so young and so many pressures. Well, all the pressures were made by me. Inside pressures. The outside pressures didn't bother me as much as people thought. If people expected great times and I didn't feel I was prepared, well, they just didn't get great times. As for the rest, it was often rewarding. But it was always as an individual. Sure, I was on the team at Kansas and I was very loyal. But you're still an individual alone. Now I have a family. Well, how can a man with a family not change? I'm as serious about running as I ever was, and I'm training harder than ever, but my family comes first. And we'll share in everything."
One of the first things they'll share is a move to Eugene, Ore., where Ryun has a choice of several job offers and where he'll be able to work out with Bill Bowerman's Oregon Track Club. And, too, the fans are going to be cut in for a piece of the action. In the past Ryun felt he had let them down, especially the children who futilely waited in line for autographs.
"It seems I was always being hustled off to be interviewed," he said. "Well, the press has been nice to me and I don't want to be cruel, but sometimes it may have to be that way. I'm not seeking to sign autographs, but if kids want them, they're going to get them. I suppose they'll go on saying I'm aloof. Aloof. That kills me. I never liked their using that word. I'm not aloof. But there are so many demands and just so much time and...." Well, that was the old Jim Ryun's hang-up.