Memorial Stadium’s Finest Mile
"Ryun was so dominant, everyone in the stadium was on their feet," remembers Larry Knuth, a longtime Los Angeles track & field coach who was there that night. "People were going nuts."
By Cathrine Merlo, The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Those who were there still remember the buzz that whipped through the crowd that night at Bakersfield College's Memorial Stadium.
It was June 23, 1967. The world's sporting spotlight had zeroed in on 20-year-old Jim Ryun, the University of Kansas runner who had been setting Mile records -- and breaking the 4 minute mark -- since high school. Already, Ryun had competed in the 1964 Olympics and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated four times. The magazine had even named Ryun its Sportsman of the Year in 1966.
And now he was here in the national Amateur Athletic Union Track & Field Championships, looking to set a new world record on Memorial Stadium's dirt track.
Broadcaster Jim McKay, announcing for ABC's Wide World of Sports, was there. So were members of the news media from around the world, including Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press. Reporting for The Bakersfield Californian was sportswriter Phil Klusman. All were aware that, with the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City just a year away, every track & field contender would be pushing for a world class performance.
A crowd of 11,600 fans filled the stands of the 12-year-old stadium. They were not only eager to see if the lean, dark-haired Ryun could break his own 3:51.3 Mile world record, set a year earlier. They had also come to watch the meet's other top-ranked athletes, including future Ryun rival and Olympic competitor Marty Liquori, a New Jersey high school senior looking to break the 4 minute Mile barrier, and the University of Southern California's Paul Wilson, who would set a new world pole vault record of 17'8" that night.
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