The 1988 Olympic Trials were a heart brake for Spivey, where he finished fourth. I was in the stands in 1992, and his win was just crazy train. Spivey dropped a 56 third lap and showed more guts in that last 700 meters than anyone I had ever seen in such a race. His emotions were real afterwards, he could not believe it!
Jim knew how to race. He also paid his dues in Europe, working as a pace maker for a few seasons to endear himself to the powerful meet directors. Spivey spent years as a coach, and now works with ASICS America in the team sports area. We catch up once or twice a year.
This piece, written by Jeff Benjamin, a long time writer for American Athletics (many will remember our first magazine), and great friend of the sport, knows that Jim Spivey was one of the few Americans (Bob Kennedy, Mark Nenow, Todd Williams, Mark Croghan, among others), who raced the best, to be the best, in a time when mediocrity was nearly celebrated in American distance running. Spivey wanted to be the best, and he gave the distance his respect and attention.
Jim Spivey did not know how to give up. This is the story of his biggest challenge and how he made it his magic moment…
had endured both ups and downs at previous Olympic trials. As the ’92
race went off before a packed crowd in the heat and humidity of New
Orleans, Spivey faced the likes of Steve Scott, Joe Falcon, Terrance Herrington, Steve Holman, Charles Marsala and, most importantly, himself.
came out of the NCAA world (Where he won 2 NCAA titles and was a 13
time All-American running for Indiana under legendary coach Sam Bell) to
dramatically win the Los Angeles Olympic Trials, besting both Scott and
Sydney Maree. Spivey also finished 5th in the
LA Games, behind his idol Sebastian Coe, establishing himself as
America’s future miler. The soft-spoken, yet intense mid-westerner then
completed banner seasons over the next 4 years, winning USATF (Known as
TAC back then) Championships and consistently running between 3 minutes
49 seconds–3 minutes 53 seconds on the European circuit, especially at
Oslo’s hallowed Dream Mile races.
In 1987, Spivey‘s
progression kept on the upswing as he thrived under new coaches Ken
Popejoy (1975 World ranked miler and later top Masters Miler) and Mike
Durkin (1976/ 1980 1500 Olympian), earned himself a 1500 Bronze Medal
at the Rome World Championships behind Abdi Bile of Somalia.
fell victim to a very slow and tactical Olympic Trials 1500 race ( a
race covered by an astonished ABC commentator Marty Liquori who
said, “..based on this pace, we will not be sending our best milers to
the Games..”) where he finished in the nightmarish 4th position, missing
the team by a step to fellow Hoosier Mark Deady.
To add to the
frustration, Spivey set his personal best over
1500 m (3:31.01, Koblenz) around the same time of the Seoul Games,
making one wonder how well he could have run in the Olympics.
year included avoiding the pitfalls that had haunted him over the
previous 4 years. “I prepared for this for 4 years,” said Spivey.
“My Coaches really looked after me. Ken said to remember those 600
repeats we did in 20 below zero weather in Illinois. The night before
the final of the 1500m, MIke Durkin called me from Chicago (Ken was in
New Orleans) :
——–“I want you to follow this game plan
for the final, tomorrow… Whoever has the lead, follow them for the
first 800m. Then at 800 meters, take the lead, and run 56 seconds for
the 3rd lap. With 200 meters to go, I want you tonight, to visualize
people breaking into your house – and their names are Steve Scott, Joe
Falcon, Terrance Herrington. What are you going to do? Are you going
to let them come into your house, and steal everything? This is yours
to be defended. Defend your house. When you get to 100 meters to go,
don’t go to your guns (that was Mike’s way of saying all out kick).
Keep one gear to use. Wait until 70 meters to go, then if someone
starts coming up on you, go to the sprint. Feet straight, jaw
The pressure was indeed on. the first lap of the race was marred by the
fall of Joe Falcon, who never recovered. After an opening 58 second 400,
the pace slowed to 1: 58 at the 800. “I knew I had to take the lead,”
Following Durkin’s instructions, Spivey
threw in a 56 second third lap, separating himelf rom the field, with
only Herrington and Holman reacting. “It was scary when I took the
lead.” Holman, Herrington, Greg Whitley and Marsala did try and chase Spivey down, but it was all for naught.
Striking an emotional Seb Coe-like pose at the finish, Spivey
exorcised his demons and dramatically won in 3:36.24. The first person
to grab him at the finish was Popejoy. “I thought it was a dream and I
would wake up and the race had not started”, Spivey later said.
continued on for a few more years. In 1996, he qualified in the 5000
meters (13 minutes, 15.86 seconds) and competed at the age of 36 in the
Atlanta Olympic 5000, where he was a semi-finalist.
joined the Asics company where he works today. He was also the head
coach of men and women cross-country and track and field at the
University of Chicago from 1997-2001, and coached 13 all-Americans.
From 2001-2005, he was the head women’s cross-country coach/assistant
track and field coach at Vanderbilt University. Spivey currently lives in Wheaton, Illinois and works for ASICS America in college team sales, and coaches the Jim Spivey Running Club. He also coaches individuals and high school groups during the off-season, and gives speeches (both coaching-related and motivational). at seminars and running camps.
, a fitting tribute to the perseverance and dedication of one of
America’s best who rose to the occasion on America’s greatest track
stage 20 years ago back in 1992.