The Dream Mile, May 16, 1971: Ryun VS Liquori: A View of 40 Years, by Jeff Benjamin with Amanda Benjamin, note by Larry Eder

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Reposted May 16, 2018, This is the 47th anniversary of the 1971 Dream Mile. Reread this fantastic story by Jeff Benjamin on the historic race!


SI Cover courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Updated May 16, 2017. This is the 46th anniversary of the Dream Mile, that amazing race between Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori! We hope you enjoy rereading this fun piece by Jeff Benjamin.

The story of this article is another example of the potential with our sport. Jeff Benjamin, an early adaptor if there ever was one, began writing for American Athletics back in 1991, I believe. Jeff then did articles on Jim Spivey, the Dream Mile and Abel Kiviat. Jeff loves the sport, and has suggested articles and ideas for the past two decades. I always enjoy his notes.

What does a running geek with two daughters (Amanda & Brianna) do? Encourage them both to run, of course. Well, Amanda, his oldest, has joined her father at Millrose for the past several years. Amanda Benjamin wants to write about sports, and she is now a second generation in the Benjamin family to write for our publications and website.

The Dream Mile was a magic moment in our sport. Jeff and Amanda have captured the scene, the zeitgeist tremendously well. Sports fans watch the Dream Mile on ABC Wild World of Sports! In an era when track & field is fighting with professional walleye fishing for money, 1971 was a time of promise, but also a time of challenges. The fact is, the sport missed continued chances to resonate.

With many of our new sports stars, track & field has some tremendous opportunities. So, dear readers, who will be running the next Dream Mile?

Updated May 17, 2016. This is a fine piece from our archives. 45 years and one day past one of the finest races over the mile ever run in North America! Special thanks to Jeff Benjamin for staying on me about getting this piece reposted! Pictures 121.jpg

Amanda Benjamin with Jim Ryun, 2010 adidas Grand Prix, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Liquori vs Ryun--40 years later
by Jeff Benjamin
Can it really be 30, I mean 40 years? In 1971, Nixon was President, Vietnam was still going on, handheld calculators were used for the first time ( a prequel to the technology age!) and Americans flocked to the movies to see George C. Scott in the Oscar-winning PATTON.
To many American track fans, May 16th, 1971 also was THE MILE event of the century---The Dream Mile in Franklin Field, Philadelphia. Although there were 11 competitors in the field, thousands of fans in the stadium and millions of television watchers tuned in (on CBS) to see only 2 of them--Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori.
By early 1970, Marty Liquori had risen to become America's top miler. High school basketball interested him, but he found his niche' in running and winning races. After becoming the third high schooler to break four minutes for the mile ( Running for Essex Catholic, he was coached by the legendary Fred Dwyer) , he then became youngest American athlete to make an Olympic final in 1968. Hobbled by arch trouble, he finished last in the 1500 final.

Undeterred by his failure, and intent on proving his Olympic failure was a fluke, the Jumbo Elliot-coached Villanova athlete from New Jersey would go on to win the 1969 NCAA mile (3:57.7), and then take the AAU mile (3:59.3) eight days later. By 1970, Liquori, it seemed, had taken America's # 1 mile spot and had finally grown out of the gigantic shadow cast throughout the 1960s by America's greatest mile runner ever--Jim Ryun.
Jim Ryun was a phenomenon force never before seen in the sport. The homegrown, modest and humble Kansan had been driven to the pinnacle of the sport, beginning with his freshman year at Wichita East High School. "Track was half a chance, " said Ryun. "I tried football, basketball, baseball. I even failed with my junior high school track team". On the High School track team, he fell under the influence of Bob Timmons, a former swimming coach.

Motivated by Timmons, Ryun was pushed in every workout to incredible heights (the legendary 40 X 400s in 65 seconds which Ryun also said was completed not only by him, but his teammates as well.), as he was the first high schooler to break 4 minutes (3:59.0), and then went on to qualify for his first Olympic team in 1964. In 1965, Ryun, as a (high school) senior, defeated the Olympic Champion Peter Snell in the AAU championship, running an American Record of 3:55.3!

Ryun's meteoric rise continued and Timmons continued to coach him at the University of Kansas. He would eventually shatter the mile, 1500, and 1/2 mile world records, all before his college graduation!!

Many consider his greatest race the 1967 AAU Meet in Bakersfield, California. Running by himself with two laps to go, Ryun ran an amazing 3:51.1 on a cinder track before a crowd of thousands and a television audience of millions. Overlooked in the race was the 3:59.8 run by the third high schooler ever to break 4 minutes--Marty Liquori.
As the 1968 Olympic Games were a disaster for Liquori, Ryun's performance in Mexico City led to his almost disappearance from the sport. Held at altitude in Mexico City, Ryun and Coach Jack Daniels knew that the race would favor the altitude born runners, notably a Ryun competitor, Kenyan Kip Keino.

Ryun would train at altitude in Alamosa, Colorado under Daniels' supervision leading to the Games. Both Daniels and Ryun agreed that a 3:38 1500 would net Olympic Gold. However, thanks to a quick pace set by teammate Ben Jipcho, Keino dominated the early part of the Olympic 1500 by running at a very fast pace, drawing out most of the other athletes from sea level to exhaustion. Ryun stayed back, then launched a ferocious kick with 400 to go. But it was too late. Keino would win the gold in 3:34.9, while Ryun would net silver in 3:37.8, below the goal that he and Daniels had set.

But, American fans were disappointed, and they made sure that Ryun heard their displeasure. By 1969, Ryun, now in his senior year of college, lost the NCAA mile to the up and coming Liquori.

The pressure seemed to exact a toll on Ryun. Constantly under pressure, along with bizaare AAU policies (he was told by the AAU that his planned honeymoon trip with his wife was off unless he accepted an AAU chaperone), Ryun then dropped out of the AAU mile race which was won by Liquori. Disenchanted, it seemed he retired from sport, ceding the top spot in America to Liquori.
Not many in American track were happy about it, though. Despite his failures, many in the American public had begun to sympathize with Ryun and his troubles. The modest mid-westerner known for his record-breaking times still had a strong devoted following.

Dan Dougherty, a long time Staten ISland track fan and competitor once introduced Ryun, saying that "Most boys in the 1960's looked up to the Beatles...My sons looked up to Jim Ryun."

The New Jerseyan Liquori, on the other hand, was seen by many as the cocky, stuck-up East Coaster who had never truly run as fast as Ryun. One of the greats of the sport, the late George Sheehan, summed up Liquori in an early 1970s article: "You can count on the fingers of your hand the races in which he (Liquori) has turned in an outstanding time. The Liquori motto is: 'Win--But with the least amount of effort.' And the Liquori trademark is the backward look at his opponent to make sure he is using no more energy than is absolutely necessary."
So, when Ryun began a comeback in 1970, many cheered. By 1971, Liquori and Ryun were not only fighting to be # 1 in America, but also in the world, and the stage was set for the May 16th Dream Mile in Philadelphia (The mile would be part of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Freedom Games, a traditional meet which would this particular year, due to the hype, become a logistical nightmare for the meet management!)

The race still remains the pinnacle for miling in America, not only in the fact that there were two great American Milers battling for the # 1 spot, but also in that it drew an across the board variety of American audiences as well. In an America influenced by shows such as ABC's Wide World of Sports, the general mainstream fan was very easily able to relate to the race just as much as the diehard track fan.(For the record, the Dream Mile was shown on CBS Sports.)

In an era dominated by the brash talking of Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier, the event was billed as the "Mile of the Century" and it worked. Never before had America had two world beaters like Liquori and Ryun, who, aside from their distinct personalities, were the best in the world at this time. "The media buildup for this was unlike any track event I have ever seen," said Tom Fleming of New Jersey, a Liquori childhood basketball friend in the stands who would go on to win two NYC Marathons. Both Liquori and Ryun were besieged by the press, fans, and friends seeking tickets.
After a brief handshake on the field in front of the 60,000 fans in attendance, Liquori and Ryun joined 9 others at the starting line. The first part of the race was slow, as Manhattan College freshman, Joe Savage, took the lead from West Virginia's Morgan Mosser.

Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated would state later that with the slow opening pace, the crowd must have wondered if they were at the right meet! Fans though, were concentrated on Liquori and Ryun.

Liquori, fearful of Ryuns' 46 second 400 meter speed, immediately took off just past the 800. "I stood up at that point because I knew exactly what he (Liquori) was doing", said track fan and Monsignor Farrell High School Coach ( and later track writer) George Kochman, who was seated in the front row along the backstretch.

Ryun followed right behind him, leaving the pack further pack. To the delight and anticipation of the crowd, it was now a two man race.

Liquori passed the 3/4 mile mark in 3:00.3, having just completed a 56 second third quarter, but Ryun was right behind them. With 200 meters to go, the crowd roared as Ryun unleashed his kick. But Liquori, still running strong, held him off and won before a frenzied crowd in a time of 3:54.6. Ryun finished right behind him in 3:54.8.

Crowds of people overflowed from the stands to pile on Liquori. "I was the first one to jump on Marty and hug him," said Tom Fleming.

"You can check the video." "My last 800 meters was run in 1:51," said Liquori years later. "What people in America remember is what happened in Franklin Field that day." Ryun was not the least upset with his performance, which he (and others) felt was a very good run in his comeback quest. Ironically, the Liquori and Ryun couples would get together later that evening for a quiet,low-key hour to talk about the race and, according to Liquori in his autobiograohy "Born To Run", "talk as any young couples do."
The 1972 Dream Mile would lead to unpredictable future events for the two of them. Liquori, would be injured for both the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games and be shut out by the 1980 boycott. In 1975, Liquori would run another great Dream Mile Race, only this time finishing second in Jamaica to Tanzania's Flibert Bayi, who would win and break Ryuns' mile record by 1/10th of a second.

Despite missing the Olympics, Liquori would achieve a # 1 world ranking in the mile, along with a #1 ranking in the 5000 meters, finishing his career at that distance. To support himself, Liquori would create the Athletic Attic Franchise Running stores with the late Jimmy Carnes. His time off from injuries would also give Liquori his experience in broadcasting, a career for which he is still involved with today. Liqiuori has also returned to his first love, guitar playing, and is in a band in Florida.
Despite a superb comeback in 1971 and 1972, Jim Ryun would be beset by events out of his control. Winning the 1972 Olympic 1500 trials in dramatic fashion, he went to Munich as the favorite in a rematch with Kip Keino. But, Ryun was tripped and fell hard to the ground in his heat. After his protest was denied by Olympic officials even after viewing video which showed that he was not at fault, Ryun participated in the short-lived Pro-Track Tour and then left running very understandably bitter.

It took family encouragement and his Christian beliefs to bring him back, racing under 4:40 for the mile in Masters competition and creating his Jim Ryun Running Camps. He then ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1997, serving his county and his state of Kansas for 10 years. Today, he runs his camps, and gives lectures and clinics around the country.
America probably will not see the likes of these two again.

bmpJeff Benjamin, Jim Ryun, Amanda Benjamin, Ray Flynn, photo courtesy of
Jeff Benjamin

1 Comment | Leave a comment

Great story.For the record,the race was telecast by CBS.The Sports Illustrated story is available on their site.

I met Joe Savage a few weeks after the race.He said that he knew he would not be in the lead for very long.

Some of my friends-who had run with Marty at Essex Catholic in Newark-were getting on me for picking Ryun to win.

As for Ryun,I continually leave messages on his son Drew's You Tube page,urging his father to run for President,giving him a second chance to defeat a Kenyan.

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