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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.