A different Jim Ryun arrived in Los Angeles last weekend. He was the pre-1968 Olympics Ryun, cool and confident, ready to challenge a motorcycle over a mile and knowing the bike would finish second. Once again he believes in himself, only now maturity has converted the sheltered boy wonder of yesteryear into a nerveless man of today. In the Sunkist Invitational they threw Kip Keino at him at the last minute and Ryun came up laughing. Last year he would have thrown up. "I couldn't believe it," said Ryun's wife Anne. "Jim picked up the paper on Wednesday and said, 'Hey, Kip is going to run.' He was thrilled, simply thrilled. Me, I was sick to my stomach."
It was Keino who blew Ryun off the track in Mexico City. And it was Keino who won in 3:54.4 in Sweden last summer while Ryun, suffering from hay fever, wheezed home in 4:17.3. It was so bad, Ryun found it amusing. "It could be worse," said Anne. "At least you don't need oxygen." Then they broke up.
And so here again was Keino, the gentle policeman from Kenya, coming in with three wins in the previous eight days, including a 3:59.4. And there was Ryun, in his first race of the year, meeting his African nemesis at the starting line with a smile; now grinning and waving at the crowd; now bouncing around and joking with the other five competitors in the mile run. Jim Ryun joking at a starting line? Keino gave him a look of puzzlement.
"It can't be," said Anne to her parents. Her father winked at her. "But he's always so grim before a race," she said. "He doesn't want to talk to anyone and he doesn't want anyone to talk to him. They had better shoot that gun and get this show on the road before he starts doing handstands."
She got her wish. The gun went off and John Lawson of the Pacific Coast Club broke in front, with Ryun a step back. Keino was last, but no more than 10 yards behind Lawson. The first three laps were agonizingly slow as both Ryun and Keino waited for the other to make a move. They did the quarter in 63 seconds, a 4:12 pace, the half mile in 2:10.5, a 4:21 pace. In last place, Keino shook his head and decided Chris Fisher, Ed Sequeira and Tim Tubb were boxing him in. First one would stay inside, with the other two outside; then the inside man and one of the two outside men would switch.
At the half mile Jere VanDyk, Ryun's Club West teammate, swept into the lead. Miffed, Keino swung wide to escape his blockers and sprinted to the fore, dueled VanDyk briefly and then bafflingly dropped back into last place. Ryun had expected Keino to make his move at the quarter, the Kenyan's favorite tactic. When he didn't, Ryun decided Keino had planned a deliberate race and was going to try and outkick him. Ryun almost broke out laughing. Not at sea level, baby, he thought.
With six laps to go on the slow 11-laps-to-the-mile Tartan track at the L.A. Sports Arena, Ryun tired of playing cat-and-mouse and shot in front by 10 yards. Oh, oh, said Keino, once again circling wide and sprinting into second, seven yards behind the streaking Ryun. And that was as close as he would ever get. Ryun ran the last 440 in 56.7 to win in a relatively slow 4:06.8. Keino finished second in 4:07.3.
"My God," said a friend to Anne, "did you see the look on Jim's face that last lap? Like he was ready to run. through a brick wall before he'd let anybody beat him. If Keino had tried to pass him, Jim would have thrown a punch at him."
"Not Jim," said Anne, "bless his beautiful heart."
After Ryun ran his victory lap, he turned into a tunnel that cuts under the stands into a circular hallway outside the arena. He jogged through the hall to warm down. A few thousand fans fled the stands to jog after him.