Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Forgotten Men (First of a Series)

Track and field used to be a popular sport and the mile was one of the glamour events. One of the great sport standards was the four-minute mile-- first achieved by Roger Bannister in 1954 (3:59.4).

In the twelve years after Bannister’s run seven men held the mile record. On average each new record took 0.8 seconds off the previous mark and each record lasted for an average of 21 months.

On 17 July 1966 Jim Ryun ran the mile in 3:51.3, breaking the record by an amazing 2.3 seconds. A year later he lowered the mark to 3:51.1. That record would stand until 1976 (95 months).

In an afternoon he lowered the mile record by 2.3 seconds. It would take thirteen YEARS for the best runners in the world to beat Ryun’s mark by that increment.

Ryun was America’s greatest miler. He was the first high school runner to break four minutes and in 1965 he ran 3:55.3 which stood as the fastest time by a high school runner until 2001 (36 years).

At the time, his achievements were recognized by the wider sporting world. In 1966 he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and was awarded the Sullivan Award (nation’s top amateur athlete). Today, unfortunately, great track and field athletes are ignored in favor of showy exhibitions like the X-Games or Slamball.

Check out the National Track and Field Hall of Fame here.

Ryun is now a Member of Congress and his site is here.

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