And so, suddenly, Marty Liquori, the child whom many called Wonder Boy, is now very much a man. It all happened quickly, sooner certainly than even he expected, but he is no longer just Marty Liquori, the third high school four-minute miler, the kid Olympian, the potentially great runner from Villanova. Though only 19, he is not a teen-ager. He is the man who beat Jim Ryun, and now, more than ever, people will expect greatness of him every time he runs. He realized it first the Thursday after he beat Ryun for the NCAA championship. "Now what will people expect of me?" he mused. "What do you do for an encore? It's funny. You work so long to get to this point. What comes after you get it? What will be next?" Then again, Sunday night in Miami, having won the AAU mile after Ryun quit on the second lap, Liquori said, "I won the two biggest meets of the year. I know it will feel good tomorrow. But right now, well, it seems a bit funny."
More perplexing was what happened to Jim Ryun, who had run most of the first quarter mile in second place and then, unaccountably, slowed to a near jog and stopped. It has been a frustrating year for him. He hasn't been enthusiastic about running. He has had what he calls "junk injuries."
When Ryun stepped off the track, it was, in a way, his first step into the real world. He went to the stands, put an arm around his wife Anne and, slowly, walked out of the stadium and through the parking lot. "You just saw Jim Ryun blow a big race," he muttered. Then, as he reached his car, he turned to a friend. "It's staleness," he said. "When you start to see guys pull away and there's no competitive response, it's staleness. Too much competition. Too many races. Too much pressure."
Four hours later, in his suite at the Sheraton Four Ambassadors, Ryun, lying on a couch, still in his sweat pants and Kansas University T shirt, talked of what had happened. "The Jim Ryun of a few years ago is dead as of today," he said. "I've tried very hard to be The Jim Ryun in what hasn't been a serious year of running. I would like to have enjoyed this year. But I'm not programmed that way. I just exert too much pressure on myself.
July 6, 1969
"You have to understand. There is always the fear of losing, that someone better is going to come along, that maybe there's going to be another Jim Ryun, that maybe Marty already is that. But, if I felt I was on my way out, I'd quit running. I am afraid of losing. But I can't think back to the day when I wasn't scared. It's when that fear of losing becomes so overwhelming—then it's time to quit.
"The problem is that the world I lived in before was one of fantasy. All I've done is win. It's a new thing to lose. The Jim Ryun before was a person who, because of circumstances breaking his way, made it to the top in a short time, without knowing how to lose, without knowing how to finish a strong second.
"There has to be a new Jim Ryun. I have to exemplify my new self instead of the old one. I am anxious to compete. But I have to realize I can't control races like before. What happened out there today was more mental than physical. It's not a question of making excuses. It's a question of explaining it. And I just don't know how to do that right now.
"If I don't get over this pressure I put on myself, that fear of losing, I may never step on a track again. I made a mistake by quitting, I realize that. I think I grew up today. I think the life Anne and I live from now on will be a lot more real and with a lot more feeling. It's not a pleasant thing, losing. Yet it makes everything more real. Actually, we've always been down with the Joneses. But before, no one would admit it."
Ryun wasn't alone in succumbing to the curious malaise that seems to be affecting so many young people. Dick Fosbury declined to make a third attempt at 7'1" in the high jump, which Otis Burrell won at that height. "I just didn't feel like jumping," Fosbury said. "It's fatigue, mental and physical. I've never done this before, but it was just getting to me."
And Ryun wasn't the only champion to fall. John Carlos, The World's Fastest Human, was beaten in the 100 by an unknown, Ivory Crockett ("That's Crockett as in Davy and Ivory as in soap," he explained later), a freshman from Southern Illinois. And Bob Seagren, though he won the pole vault with a fine jump of 17'6", failed again by a hair in his attempt to be the first 18-foot vaulter. "I want to be the guy to do it," he said the day before. "What else is there in track except doing something someone else hasn't done?"
On Saturday he came as close as anyone could without succeeding. He stood at the head of the runway as John Pennel missed his final attempt at 17'6", and again Bob Seagren was alone. "Here we go again," he said. "Scare City. I've just got to make it, I'm tired. The burden is too much. God, I just got to pull it all together. I'm tired. I've got to make it. I've got to make it. I'm tired."
Finally he was ready. He waited for the wind to die, staring once heavenward. "When I'm standing there, I just think that this has to be the time," he said. "This has to be it. I've got to get it together." He did, only to knock the bar off with his left arm. "I felt it tick," he said later. "But as I fell it was still up there and I thought I had it. But then, when I hit the pit and looked up, the bar was right there in front of me. I just thought to myself, God, no."
The second try was just as close, but this time he brushed the bar with his belly. "Hey, why don't you get rid of those baggy shorts?" someone yelled from the stands. "What's he want me to do, go up in my jock?" Seagren said. Even if he had, the final attempt would have been unsuccessful. It was the worst of the three. "The first one was it," Seagren said. "I was mentally ready. I hit well. I thought I had it. I'm getting discouraged. Everyone said there will be another day, that there's always a next time. I'm tired of next times. I wanted next time today."
For Lee Evans the next time was Sunday. Beaten a week earlier at the NCAAs when an unknown named Curtis Mills set a new world record, Evans was not only out to redeem himself, but to break the record as well. "In the trials yesterday, man, I came off the corner and I was tripping lightly," he said at breakfast. "Last week I was too uptight. Now I'm relaxed." He went back to his room and called his wife Linda. "She asked me if I was going to embarrass her again this week by losing," he said later. "She said the neighbors came up to her and said they don't like to associate with losers."
Evans is a winner again and, though he didn't get the world record, he did win his fourth national AAU championship in a row, in a meet record 45.6. Again he came off the final turn easily but, unfortunately, started his kick 20 yards too late. "Hell, I'm not even tired," he said right after the race. "But I won again. Records...someone's always going to break records. But 20 years from now, when that record and any record I set is long gone, they can look in the book at past champions and see Lee Evans four years in a row, and they're going to be saying to themselves, 'That must have been some mean dude.' "
Yet this race, and any race on Sunday, was nothing but a preliminary for what everyone expected to be a showdown between Ryun and Liquori. The only two who didn't seem excited by the prospect were Ryun and Liquori. "Losing to Marty in the NCAAs was a defeat," Ryun said. "If I was making this a serious season and I had lost I would be more upset. But this is a down year, not a very serious year. I've trained. But I've cheated a bit, too. I've been inconsistent at it. A defeat is a defeat, but if I had been very serious then it would bother me more."
"Just because I beat him once doesn't mean I'm going to do it again," Liquori said. "I really don't expect to beat him anymore than I expected to beat him last week, and last week I was just worried about finishing the race. No, if I beat him this week, I'd be just as happy as last."
It was, still, a different Liquori who prepared to meet Ryun, for Liquori was aware that a transformation was taking place and that he was no longer his own person. He left Miami early in the week and went to Fort Lauderdale, away from the hoopla. "I guess I do look at myself differently," he admitted. "I don't know why or how or in what manner I'm different. But it's there. Maybe if I stopped and thought about it more I'd know."
Liquori swam, played golf, often just sat by the pool. He went to the track only once, and then merely to run four pace 400s. "I'm not scared of Ryun," he kept saying. "No. Look, man, I'm not going to fight him. I'm just going to run him. I can't spend too much time worrying. A lot of guys do it, worry too much, then when they get to the starting line they're already through. I just go out and run as fast as I can. I'd drive myself out of my mind if I thought about it all the time."
Then he talked of what many had forgotten. "You have to remember," he explained, "Jim is going down, and I'm coming up. But you really don't know whether I've come up that far or he's come down that far. Jim may be a little slow this year, but it would be easy for him to start running good again.
"I still feel like just another runner when compared to Jim Ryun. He's already proven himself. And I still think that the ultimate control on whether I win or lose against Jim is up to him. If he's at a peak, there's no one near him. If he's willing to slave and to sacrifice, there is no way in the world I can beat him this year or next. But if he's going to fool around, I'm going to be there to take advantage of it. If he gives less than 100% and I give a little more, well, then I can win."
The victory that came Sunday was, in many respects, simple. Before the race was half over, Liquori realized that Ryun was out and that all he had to do was get far enough ahead of Sam Bair to hold off his sprinting finish. "I've never beaten Sam outdoors in the mile," Liquori said. "He can always outsprint me in the last 100 yards. With Ryun through, I figured I'd just better get out and get ready to hold Sam off." He did, winning in an easy 3:59.5—nearly two seconds slower than his best time, which he did the week before—five yards ahead of John Mason of the Pacific Coast Club, who beat out Bair for second. "I haven't beaten Jim Ryun twice," Liquori kept reminding people afterward. "I beat him once and I won another race that he started."
Indeed, Liquori's win was secondary to Ryun's loss and what happened and why it happened, and what does it all mean? Bair, for one, had his own explanation. "If I was in Ryun's place," he said, "I know I'd be mentally depressed. I think in the back of his mind Jim Ryun really wants to cool it. I think he'd really like to get away from it all. But people won't let him. They expect something great from him all the time. Ryun will retire eventually because of his mental strain. He's always going to be bugged. Then, added to that, here you have Marty, the bright young kid. Just so many pressures have been built on Ryun. I really feel sorry for him."
"People are making too big a thing out of my winning," Liquori said. "I really don't like to talk that much about it. It's not like I have a great rivalry with Ryun, or that I hate him or anything. I really respect him very much. It's a friendship, something special we have between us, although we only meet under adverse conditions, race conditions. We know we've both worked hard to get where we're at. We've been through the school of hard knocks. You don't rub anything in when someone's down, especially when it's Ryun. Just remember, he's the best distance runner we've ever had. People forget very easily. They just don't remember how great he has been."
Ryun remembers. When he was younger and so much was unreal.