A Time to Remember: 3:51.3
Leaving the whole world far behind him, Jim Ryun, the 19-year-old durable wonder of Kansas, smashes track's most treasured record—the Mile mark that has eluded American runners for 29 years
By Anita Verschoth, Sports Illustrated
After a few warmup sprints last Sunday on a field next to Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., Jim Ryun, that extraordinary young man from Wichita, Kan., sat down to change his shoes. "I feel fine," he said to a friend. "This is it."
Thirty minutes later on the Edwards track, riding the nice pace of his rivals, then bursting away alone for the final 700 yards, Ryun set a Mile world record of 3:51.3. As he swept through the tape, strong and with little agony showing on his face, 15,000 spectators were on their feet, jumping up and down, yelling, whistling. Few heard the futile shout of the announcer: "The Mile race was won by Jim Ryun, who beat Michel Jazy's world record."
By chopping an incredible 2.3 seconds off Jazy's mark, Ryun, with years of running still ahead, had taken the record that many good Americans have sought but none have owned since legend and Olympic silver medalist Glenn Cunningham 29 years ago.
Curiously, the record might have eluded Ryun for another year if world politics had not made a shabby intrusion into the special realm of track this summer. After missing the record by a mere tenth of a second at the Compton Relays six weeks ago and failing decisively at the nationals, Ryun did not expect another chance at the Mile distance. Since the U.S.-Polish and U.S.-Russian meets scheduled for this month were at metric distances, Ryun planned to try for Herb Elliott's 1500 meter world record in the Russian meet. But on Monday, July 11, as he was starting his last week of hard training, the Russians backed out.
Ryun then decided to try for the metric record against the Poles the week earlier. His last hard workout--fast halves, quarters and 150-yard dashes--took place on Monday, a week before the scheduled Polish meet. On Tuesday, the Poles withdrew. That day Ryun had an assignment to photograph the All-Star baseball game in St. Louis. During the plane ride, he discussed matters with Rich Clarkson, his boss in the photography department at the Topeka Capital-Journal. "The withdrawal of the Poles could be a blessing," he confided to Clarkson. "Maybe we could ask Sam Bell [track coach at the University of California and meet director] to change the 1500 meter race into a Mile."
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Mile WR progression HERE.
Newsreel clip of Ryun's WR run