A Special Brand of Fame
In the week following his record race young Jim Ryun discovers the joys—and hazards—of owning the most treasured mark in all of sport
By Gwilym S. Brown, Sports Illustrated
Young Jim Ryun's hectic life as the world record holder in track's most glamorous event began even while he was spinning off the 3:51.3 Mile he ran in Berkeley, Calif. a week ago last Sunday on July 17. During the race a souvenir hunter stole his warmup shoes. Some 45 minutes later, on his short journey from the Edwards Stadium track to the University of California dormitory in which he was billeted, he began to sample his first really heady dose of public adulation. Ryun covered the three blocks barefoot and at a full gallop, pursued closely by a mob of children and adults, and then bounded up the seven flights of stairs to his room when he found the elevator in use.
"Those people didn't want autographs," Ryun said later, shuddering slightly. "They were after pieces of clothing."
This was only the beginning of the week that was for the 19-year-old boy who had just finished his freshman year at the University of Kansas, who had just cut 2.3 seconds off the world Mile record, who had become the first American in 29 years to hold that title and who had predictably emerged as one of the most exciting figures in all of sport. Before the week had ended Jim Ryun had turned down a $50-a-day offer, cautiously felt his way through some 30 interviews for press, radio and television, had shaken countless hands and had autographed two $100 bills for a pair of entranced fans. He even managed to fit in a leisurely 1:46.2 victory in the 880-yard run (his world record is 1:44.9) at the Los Angeles Times International Games in the Coliseum, the substitute for the dual meet that never was between the USA and the USSR, a meet highlighted by two world records. Most important of all, Ryun was beginning to bring into focus the things that were happening to him now and the things that would happen in the months to come.
On the Sunday evening following his destruction of Michel Jazy's world record—not to mention his establishment of an unofficial record in the barefoot, seven-flight sprint—Ryun was handed a thick sheaf of telephone messages. Truly aghast, his first thought was to toss them all in the wastebasket. Then he reconsidered and began to work his way through the list, which included a request for telephone interviews with NBC and CBS radio in New York. Later, at the conclusion of a banquet in downtown Oakland, Ryun and two friends set off hoping to see San Francisco from the Top of the Mark and enjoy a soft drink while they gazed out at the city. Alas, Ryun's fame had not preceded him that far. "I have never heard of Jim Ryun," announced the manager as he barred the way, firmly citing a California law that forbids a cocktail lounge even to offer a minor a chair to sit in. When he returned home that night he was too tired to write an entry in his track notebook, in which he records time and distance of his training runs.
On Monday morning Ryun placed telephone calls to three papers back home, the Lawrence Daily Journal-World, The Wichita Beacon and The Kansas City Star, to discuss his record Mile. Then he drove up to Sacramento with his summertime employer at The Topeka Capital-Journal, Photo Director Rich Clarkson, to assist on an assignment Clarkson was undertaking for the President's Council on Physical Fitness. They were greeted there by one Casey Conrad of the California Department of Education.
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Mile world record progressions HERE.