The race had been run and Jim Ryun had finished forlorn and last in 4:19.2 and now, when all he wanted was to be alone, he stood in a gloomy tunnel of the Los Angeles Coliseum and answered questions. When as a Kansas schoolboy he had run the best milers of the world into the ground the public had made him bigger than life, and even then he wondered at the insanity of it. But the public likes its heroes to be heroic and is annoyed when they are anything less, and this Jim Ryun understands. So last weekend, sick at heart, he accepted his defeat as gracefully as he had accepted his victories.
"No, I don't know what is wrong," he answered, with blank eyes. "Is it mental? Perhaps. I don't know. No, if it is, I don't know why. No, I am not quitting. Yes, I knew when I was out of the race." A small smile appeared. "When I was 150 yards behind and everybody was pulling away from me."
"Why don't they give him a blindfold and a cigarette?" a friend said to Anne Ryun, his wife.
"Jim doesn't smoke," she said absentmindedly. "Oh, we've got to get him away from this."
"I'll tell him he has to see a doctor," said the friend.
"Yes," said Anne. "No. Then they'll think he's sick and they'll get on that and they won't believe him when he says he isn't."
"No, I have no excuses for the way I ran," Ryun was saying. "I felt heavy the first lap and then I began to tighten up. A mental problem? Somebody asked that. No, I'm not sure about that. No, I can't reconstruct the race. I don't even want to think about it now. Later I'll go over the race. I have to get back to the hotel now. Thank you."
A few hours later, in his hotel, after he had decided to order dinner from room service, Ryun probed a little deeper into his problems, but only a little. A 4:19? He hadn't run that slowly since he was a senior in high school.
"Before the race I felt good, really good," he said. "Then as soon as the gun went off I got tight. Maybe it's psychological. I don't know whether it is or not. I'm going to think about it, but I don't want to talk about it. The thing now is just to forget this race, to get away from it.
"I know I'll figure it out," he went on. "I'm discouraged now but I know I'll figure out what's wrong. It's something I'm doing wrong the last hour before a race. The difference between what I did today and what I can do is such a little thing. That's what's so disgusting about this. It hasn't been easy. It takes all the fun out of running. And it's been hard on my family. I understand it but it's been hard for them."