Jim Spivey-Alive and Kickin"-20th anniversary-Olympic Trials 1,500m-June 23, 1992, by Jeff Benjamin, note by Larry Eder

Jim Spivey, photo by PhotoRun.net (1991)

Jim Spivey was one of the few American middle distance runners who duked it out with the Europeans, Africans on the global stage in the late 1980s and 1990s. First coached by Sam Bell, the iconic coach at Indiana, Spivey was then coached by Ken Popejoy and Mike Durkin. Durkin was, and is still, one of my idols. A midwest guy with a killer finish, he came up with the term, " controlled aggression. "  Popejoy, a top runner, also UCTC, was a stud masters runner as well as a superb coach.

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...

Jim Spivey--Alive and Kickin'---20th Anniversary --Olympic Trials 1500--June 23rd, 1992, by Jeff Benjamin
Looking back twenty years later, the 1992 Olympic Trials 1500 race was pivotal for Jim Spivey. One of America's top milers since the early 1980s, the 32 year old Spivey 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.
In 1984, Jim Spivey 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.
1988, however, was a different story. Despite running another 3:50 mile in Oslo, Spivey 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.
The next four years were struggles over injury and race consistency. Spivey also was dropped by Nike and found a new home with Asics. The 1991 USATF (TAC) 1500 final was a bad dream revisited again for Spivey as, just like in 1988, the slow pace yielded victory to kickers like Terrance Herrington, with Spivey out of the top 3 again.
Spivey's preparation for the 1992 Olympic 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 relaxed."------

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," said Spivey.

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.
Jim Spivey's career 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.
When he retired from the sport, Spivey 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.
It has also been announced that Asics will be introducing a new spike for it's 2013 year called the Spivey LD ,  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.

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