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For Jim Ryun, Time Has Cushioned Fall

September 08, 2002|Lauren Peterson

SEPT. 8, 1972: DAY 14

Ryun Takes Fall

Jim Ryun, the king of middle-distance runners in 1968 after having gone undefeated for three years in the 1,500 meters and mile, finished second in Mexico City to Kenyan Kip Keino. The track world eagerly awaited a rematch in the Olympic final in 1972. It didn't happen. Ryun tripped and fell on the third lap of the opening round of the 1,500. He remained on the ground for at least eight seconds, then resumed running. But he was too far behind, finishing ninth in a field of 10. Keino advanced through the rounds into the final and finished second to Finland's Pekka Vasala.



400 Runners Disqualified

Wayne Matthews and Wayne Collett, who had acted casually instead of standing at attention during the national anthem on the victory stand after finishing 1-2 in the 400 meters, were disqualified from the remainder of the Olympics by the International Olympic Committee, costing the United States two of its best quarter-milers for the 1,600-meter relay. Having also lost John Smith, Collett's UCLA teammate, because of an injury, the United States was forced to withdraw.



*--* Country G S B T Soviet Union 34 22 18 74 United States 27 27 27 81 East Germany 19 17 21 57


*--* QUOTE


"I doubt very much if there would ever be another Olympic Games. The strength of sport has always been that it can continue despite world tensions, quarrels, even wars."

--Dr. Roger Bannister on the consequences if the remainder of the Games had been canceled because of the attack on the Israelis



After becoming the first high school track and field athlete to run the mile in under four minutes when he ran 3:59.0 as a 17-year-old junior at Wichita East High in 1964, Jim Ryun then clocked a 3:55.3 as a senior in 1965--a national high school record time that stood for 36 years until Alan Webb of Virginia ran 3:53.43 in May of 2001.

Ryun became a world-record holder at 880 yards (1:44.9), the mile (3:51.1) and 1,500 meters (3:33.1), as well as a three-time U.S. Olympian.

Among the favorites in the 1,500 at Munich, Ryun failed to qualify for the finals after he became entangled with Billy Fordjour of Ghana in a preliminary heat and both fell with 550 meters to go. Ryun appealed to the International Olympic Committee, claiming he was fouled by another runner, Vitus Ashaba of Uganda, but was denied.

This shocking end to Ryun's amateur career, on the heels of his failure to make the 1,500 finals as a teenager in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and a disappointing showing at the 1968 Olympics, at first left him bitter.

But Ryun, a devout Christian, leaned on his faith to weather his Olympic trials.

"You hope to win, and, by golly, I would have loved to win a gold medal," he said. "Nevertheless, it was a life-changing experience. It was the Olympics, and I still consider it a great achievement to have run for the United States."

These days, he runs for public office.

First elected to represent the second district of Kansas in 1996, Ryun, 55, is in his third term as a Republican congressman and is up for re-election in November.

"I'll have to see what the people say. Hopefully, it's a chance to renew my contract," he said. "I still run, but this is a different type of competition. You're competing for the safety of the country and the interests of the country."

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