Jim Ryun's 3:51.1 World Record Mile- 50 years later- Perspectives From Those Who Followed!

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jim ryun 3.51.1.jpgJim Ryun runs 3:51.1 WR, photo by bakersfield.com

Jim Ryun is the iconic America miler. His 3:58.3 as a high school senior, his three Olympic teams, his two WRs put him on the covers of Track & Field News, and Sports Illustrated. Jeff Benjamin reached out to some of the finest milers to follow Jim, and ask them about Jim Ryun's place in the world of middle distance running.

image2.JPGJim Ryun, Anne Ryun Jeff Benjamin, photo from Jeff Benjamin

Updated August 1, 2017

Jim Ryun's 3:51.1 World Record Mile- 50 years later- Perspectives From Those Who Followed!

By Jeff Benjamin

After becoming America's first 1500 Gold Medalist since 1908, Matt Centrowitz tweeted how just before that grand race last summer in Rio he received an email wishing him good luck from "My idol growing up...Jim Ryun!"

One can definitely see why.

50 years ago in Bakersfield, California, Jim Ryun truly did the impossible. All one can do is watch in awe at the video below, and one can see why "Ryunesque" should be a word in today's dictionary words synonymous with "unlimited"

Jim_Ryun_1966-0x270.jpgJim Ryun on cover of Track & Field News, the bible of the sport

After one finishes watching, please also keep in mind that Ryun ran a qualifying 1- mile heat race the day before!! "He ran a 4:07, opening lap of 67, last lap of 56, last 3/4 in 3:00 (just checked his training log for the splits, so they're correct)!", said his son Drew Ryun.
Keep in mind that in that amazing summer Ryun also shattered the 1500 World Record with a time of 3:33.1, a time many track aficionados consider superior to his Mile WR.
But this is America, where the Mile is considered the standard, especially for a mainstream American audience, who watched along in awe on television that magical day in Bakersfield.
Who else can judge this superhuman performance? How about some of America's best milers throughout the last 50 years since the record?

Matt Centrowitz Sr
Mile PR - 3:54.94
matt sr and jr.jpgMatt Centrowitz, Sr. and Matthew Centrowitz, Jr., photo by TracktownUSA

"I read about it many many times. Never ceases to amaze me how great Jim was during his era. An amazing running machine. In my 50 years in the sport there has been no one like him."


Robby Andrews
Mile PR- 3:53.16
IMG_7492.jpgRobbie Andrews, photo by Mike Deering for The Shoe Addicts

"Jim Ryun has been an inspiration to me as a runner. It is incredible that his 3:51.1 mile, that he ran 50 years ago, would still be relevant in almost any race contested today."



John Gregorek Sr
Mike PR - 3:51.34
gregoreksr.jpgJohn Gregorek, Sr. circa 1980-1981, photo courtesy of Georgetown Athletics

"Unbelievable. Truly a legend. Could only imagine what he would have run with the typical multiple rabbit races of today. I ran 3:51.3 in a race where I was only 6th place and on a much nicer track."


Kyle Merber
Mile PR- 3:52.22
Merber_Kyle4xMFH-OConnor17.jpgKyle Merber, photo by PhotoRun.net

"The way he ran that from the front, with no rabbits, and being able to close the way he did all alone--Today's 1500 runners should never complain when the pace is a bit off. 50 years ago he showed us what's possible."


Steve Scott
Mile PR- 3:47.69
Steve Scott Sports illustrated .jpgSteve Scott, cover of Sports Illustrated

"To be honest, I don't think I have ever seen footage of his race, that was amazing!! He looks like he was shot out of a cannon the last 200 meters! To run that fast, by himself, on a dirt track with no rabbits is quite the accomplishment. He was a beautiful runner to watch."


Johnny Gregorek Jr
Mile PR. - 3:53.15
Gregorek_JohnnyQ1-OlyTr16.jpgJohnny Gregorek, Jr. , photo by PhotoRun

"I have seen Ryun's world record. It's an incredible race and Jim Ryun is definitely a legend of the sport who set the bar high for American milers by both being good from a young age but also relevant on the world stage.

As far as the race itself goes, I am amazed by Ryun's ability to push himself alone and close hard. His splits were not incredibly fast for the first 3/4 of the race but he isn't phased by it and closes like a maniac.

However, I would like to think I could have used him as a rabbit of sorts during that last 400. If I sat on him and swung wide over the last 100 meters, I could have outkicked him and stole that world record!! ;)"


Alan Webb
Mile PR- 3:46.91
10th Anniversary of his still standing American Record!
Webb_Alan-FH-Pre04.jpgAlan Webb, Pre Classic 2004, photo by PhotoRun.net

"As a gift I was given a copy of the Sports Illustrated with a picture of Jim Ryun finishing his world record 3:51.1 with no one in sight the whole way down the home stretch. It amazed me every time I looked at that photo. I looked up to Jim throughout my career."


Jim Spivey
Mile PR- 3:49.80
Jim Spivey .jpg
Jim Spivey, photo by PhotoRun.net

"I could not believe the announcers kept saying what pace he had to be to get the World Record. Going through the 800 split in 1:58.6 does not bode well in running a World Record. Even 2:57 is slow for the 3/4 mile split. It truly proves that if you believe, it can be done. Jim Ryun believed he could run a 53 last 400. All he had to do was be there with a lap to go - in striking distance. He believed this so much, that even the announcers believed it. He went out in 60 then ran 2:51 for the last 3 laps!"

Jeff Atkinson
Mile PR-3:52.80
Jeff Atkinson.jpgJeff Atkinson on RW cover


"Time trial just like practice for him. Sustained speed was his wheelhouse, later perfected by a little known guy by the name of Sebastian Coe."


Ken Popejoy
Mile PR - 3:57.0
Popejoy-over-Wottle-by-Jim-Ferstle.jpgKen Popejoy over Dave Wottle, photo by Jim Ferstle, on Sir Walter Miler site
"23 June, 1967....
I had just finished my sophomore year at Glenbard West High School with a mile PR of 4:17.9! My idol was Jim Ryun and the wall of my bedroom was "adorned" with articles and pictures of his accomplishments (I also had a separate scrap book of duplicates!!!)
I watched the 3:51.1 race live and was in total awe of how Jim just went out from the gun and went after it all by himself! I was so into the race that I was exhausted afterward as if I had been in the race myself!! The news clipping that came out the next day clearly made it to a special place on that bedroom wall of mine :-)
One of the highlights of my 30 year running career was the 1972 Von's Coliseum Classic in LA where I broke 4:00 in the mile for the first time in a race won by my idol!!! He recognized that fact, after we finished, by taking me out for dinner that night....what a thrill....what a class act."
Ken Popejoys wall .jpeg
Ken's Wall
Joe Falcon
Mile PR- 3:49.31
Joe Falcon, TFN.jpgJoe Falcons, TFN cover
"I'm honored to share about Jim. Jim Ryun, in my opinion, is the finest middle distance runner in American history. The accomplishments over 800 meters, 1500 meters, and the mile are phenomenal when one considers he set records on cinder tracks without the use of pacing rabbits.
As accomplished as he was as an athlete, his legacy will forever center on his relationship with Jesus Christ and his passion to share the love of Christ with others!
Congratulations Jim on the 50th anniversary of your world record mile. Thank you for the example you gave both on and off the track that has inspired generations of American distance runners!"
Sebastian Coe
Mile PR - 3:47.33
Coe_Seb1a-IAAFgala16.jpgSeb Coe, photo by PhotoRun.net
"Jim Ryun was an outstanding athlete, the first high school runner to go Sub 4 for the Mile. Three years later his racing during the Californian summer of 1967 was a wonderful high spot in a long distinguished career. Ryun set world records at 1500m and the Mile in just over a fortnight of each other. Already the holder of the Mile record for one year, he improved his best on 23rd June by 2 tenths of a second to 3:51.1, a time which remained unbeaten for eight years. On the 8th of July he produced his first and only 1500m world mark. His record of 3:33.1, stood for six seasons. The longevity of those records says everything about their quality, as does their conqueror, Tanzania's Filbert Bayi, another supreme miler."
A Very Happy Anniversary Jim!
jim Ryun, 3.58.3, hs mile .jpgJim Ryun running 3:58.3 for mile at Kansas State high school meet, 1965, photo from Jim Ryun's FB, originally Wichita, KS newspaper

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