This piece came from the amazing Facebook page of Mike Fanelli. A daily reminder of what is amazing in our sport, Mike takes memorabilia from his hallowed Track garage and lets us in on the significance. His love of the sport is obvious, and his stories show us the beauty and promise of this sport of athletics. We encourage you to check out Mike Fanelli’s daily updates.
This piece is on 1964 Olympian Ron Larrieu, who died this past week at the age of 83. Yes, Ron Larrieu is the older brother of Francie Larrieu Smith, a 4 time Olympian herself. The two pictures of Ron are from the collections of Francie Larrieu Smith, which she posted on Facebook.
SADDENED to share with the track & field world at large that we’ve just lost a highly esteemed member, Ron Larrieu, shortly after his 83rd birthday.
Ron had a splendid career, beginning with his schoolboy days at Palo Alto High School. While a senior at Paly in March of 1956, Larrieu raced to a 9:39.3 cinder-tracked two mile run, and in so doing, broke the 31 year old national high school record for said distance by 5 entire seconds. It’s a tough call to determine whether that magnificent performance OR his subsequent California State meet one mile win, was his shining scholastic moment. States were held in Chico, CA on June 2nd and young Larrieu raced to a 4:20.1 victory at those CIF Championships…a mark that would rank as # 3 in the country that year (behind just the 4:16.1 National HS record of Jim Bowers, and the 4:19.1 of Ron Gregory…yes, comedian Dick Gregory’s brother, who went on to great success at Notre Dame)…Ron’s high school mile time was #8 USA all time at that very moment.
Collegiately, the self-coached Larrieu did a stint at Mt SAC Junior College prior to signing on as a Bronco at Cal Poly Pomona. There, the young middle distance ace set the 1500 meter school record of 3:49.44…it stood for 23 years and is STILL # 8 on that institution’s ‘all time’ list. Ron also went 4:12.24 for the imperial one mile distance, which stood as a CPP school record for an entire decade…and is to this very day the # 6 ‘all time’ mark. In 1994, Ron Larrieu was inducted into the Cal Poly Pomona Hall of Fame. But, it was post- collegiately where Larrieu truly shined.
Out of school, but far from retired athletically, Ron turned to the Los Angeles Track Club and Hungarian coaching guru, Mihaly Igloi. Under said tutelage, Larrieu thrived at the longer distances.The miler turned long distance runner blazed to a third place finish at the 1964 Olympic Trials 10,000 …behind Gerry Lindgren and Billy Mills. Between the Trials and the Games, Larrieu blazed a 27:54 6 mile…becoming the very first American to run sub 28:00 for the distance…making him a medal contender for the upcoming Japanese Olympiad. In Tokyo, he did not have his very best day…but still managed to finish just behind Kiwi star, Barry Magee, and just ahead of Russian great, Pyotr Bolotnikov, and Canuck, Bruce Kidd.
Surely disappointed after Tokyo, Larrieu worked even harder / smarter in his training…and produced some brilliant results. He was the AAU National Cross Country Champion two years in a row (1965 and 1966). In the first comment below, there’s a photo that his sister, Francie, so kindly shared with me, from that fabled ’65 win at Van Cortlandt Park.
OH, and did I mention that in 1965, Ron Larrieu set the American record at 3 miles. It wasn’t just any record…Ron’s sturdy 13:11.4 12 lapper, snapped the national standard by 4.2 seconds…held by the preceding year’s 5,000 meter Olympic gold medalist, Bob Schul.
Ron Larrieu’s vast body of work included the following PBs: 1500 meters – 3:49.2, mile – 4:03.6, 2 miles – 8:32.0, 5,000 meters -13:43.0, 10,000 meters – 28:54.2
Rest in peace Mr. Larrieu…and here’s to a life well lived.