Outwardly it's all the same—the wobbling head, the great strides and the arms going like a child's uppercuts. But inside, Jim Ryun is different. "For several years running has been No. 1 in my life," he says. "But now being a good husband and making a good marriage have become No. 1."
The new Jim Ryun ran for the first time since the Olympic Games last Saturday night, winning the open mile at the Michigan State Relays in an ordinary 4:06.2. He was smiling afterward, as he was when he turned the last corner of his 55-second final quarter. "It's really not a conscious thing," he said later. "I'm not doing it to suggest I look great running out there, It's a natural reaction, some type of mental release. But, yes, the race did feel good. I know I say this every year but I was surprised at how strong I really did feel. Nothing should be that easy."
Despite the ease with which he won, the race was one Ryun did not feel particularly prepared for. As he said before the meet, "There was a lot of planning to do for the wedding—and I wouldn't change that—so there was just no way I could train regularly."
It was his marriage three weeks ago that, more than anything, transformed Ryun. Now, instead of talking only of track, his conversation touches on other, more domestic concerns. There are the problems of money, of setting up a new apartment—even of eating. During the week Ryun is at Kansas, his wife at Kansas State, where she is finishing her final month of studies. "That means I get good cooking only on weekends," he says. "The rest of the time I have to cook for myself."
February 17, 1969
Moreover, marriage has given Ryun a new perspective on track. "The trouble with me before was that I would think of nothing but running," he says. "As soon as the 1964 Olympics were over, I started planning for 1968. Now I don't do that. I haven't yet sat down and fixed in my mind any goals for the coming season. I haven't even set any private goals. Maybe after I graduate I will settle in business and quit running altogether. I'm taking track more on a day-to-day basis. You know that time I had off? I really enjoyed it. Honestly, I just wish it could have been longer."
While Ryun was vacationing and reevaluating, two other runners were spending their weekends trying to get out from under the Jim Ryun shadow that has long obscured lesser American milers. The first, Sam Bair of Kent State, has been more successful on paper, winning five straight indoor miles before finishing fifth at Baltimore this past weekend. But it is the second, 19-year-old Villanova sophomore Marty Liquori, who is the more likely heir apparent.
Bair is the 5'6", 126-pound chap who pops up each winter on the indoor circuit. With his compact frame he can accelerate on the tight corners while taller runners have to stutter-step, and last year Bair won seven races. However, his lack of stature ultimately hinders him. "I have to realize," he says, "that no matter how much I train, if someone like Ryun is in top shape, there is no way I can keep up with him." As a result, Bair's best time—a 3:58.6 in the 1967 National AAUs—got him only sixth place behind Ryun's world-record 3:51.1.
"All I need to do," Bair says, resignedly, "is look at myself and my physical assets and at some of the others and their physical assets, and there is no way I can kid myself. But still, I'll always be there. I may end up far in the background, but I'm not ever going to be an also-ran. People are going to know I'm there." They do. Bair has become something of a celebrity in his home town of Scottdale, Pa., ranking right up there with Eddie Gray, who plays guitar for Tommy James & the Shondells.
Marty Liquori has been a star since his senior year at Essex Catholic in Newark, when he became the third high-schooler (after Ryun and Tim Daniel-son) to break four minutes for the mile, running a 3:59.8. Unlike Bair, Liquori has the assets—and an obsession. "Track is the most important part of my life," he says.
Frank Murphy, a Villanova teammate who has run a 3:58.6 mile himself, agrees. "I wish I were as dedicated as Marty," he says. "But sometimes I think he takes it all too seriously." Indeed, a sign above the desk in Liquori's dormitory room reads: THEY ARE ABLE BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY ARE ABLE. SKILL TO DO COMES OF DOING—SO DO IT.
What he has already done—a sub-four-minute mile at 17 and a place on the Olympic team at 18—has led his teammates to dub him Wonder Boy. His coach, Jumbo Jim Elliott, is of much the same opinion. "With some more quality work," he says, "I see no reason why Marty can't run a 3:50 mile." Liquori is a bit more cautious. "You hate to talk about ultimates," he says, "because few people ever reach them, but I think I have accomplished as much as anyone at this age. And I feel that in the future I can accomplish as much as anyone already has."
This winter the future has snuck up on him. After two uninspiring 4:10 miles in early January he won the mile at the Millrose Games in a fine 4:00.8, the best time of the indoor season. He is not scheduled to run another open mile until the NCAA championships in mid-March, when, in all probability, he will face Ryun. "Sure, it bothers everyone to have Ryun up there," he says. "He's so ahead of his time. But I try to look at it sociologically. Go back to the cavemen. They'd pick a wise man from their tribe and make him their king, because he was a good man. But to maintain rule, that man would have to build a wall around himself and let people talk to him only through couriers. So those outside came to respect him and to fear him. This was what happened with Ryun. He normally doesn't come out to many meets. And when he does, he eats his meals, then disappears, then runs. The papers make it seem like he doesn't do human things, like burp or anything. But after being with him in Olympic Village, seeing him with his girl, I realize he's normal. And fallible."
Last Saturday night Jim Ryun was ready to agree. "Marty sure has been running some good times," he said after his race. "I'm just happy I didn't have to face him this weekend. The shape I'm in now, I'm afraid I might not have beat him."