A different Jim Ryun arrived in Los Angeles last weekend. He was the pre-1968 Olympics Ryun, cool and confident, ready to challenge a motorcycle over a mile and knowing the bike would finish second. Once again he believes in himself, only now maturity has converted the sheltered boy wonder of yesteryear into a nerveless man of today. In the Sunkist Invitational they threw Kip Keino at him at the last minute and Ryun came up laughing. Last year he would have thrown up. "I couldn't believe it," said Ryun's wife Anne. "Jim picked up the paper on Wednesday and said, 'Hey, Kip is going to run.' He was thrilled, simply thrilled. Me, I was sick to my stomach."
It was Keino who blew Ryun off the track in Mexico City. And it was Keino who won in 3:54.4 in Sweden last summer while Ryun, suffering from hay fever, wheezed home in 4:17.3. It was so bad, Ryun found it amusing. "It could be worse," said Anne. "At least you don't need oxygen." Then they broke up.
And so here again was Keino, the gentle policeman from Kenya, coming in with three wins in the previous eight days, including a 3:59.4. And there was Ryun, in his first race of the year, meeting his African nemesis at the starting line with a smile; now grinning and waving at the crowd; now bouncing around and joking with the other five competitors in the mile run. Jim Ryun joking at a starting line? Keino gave him a look of puzzlement.
"It can't be," said Anne to her parents. Her father winked at her. "But he's always so grim before a race," she said. "He doesn't want to talk to anyone and he doesn't want anyone to talk to him. They had better shoot that gun and get this show on the road before he starts doing handstands."
January 31, 1972
She got her wish. The gun went off and John Lawson of the Pacific Coast Club broke in front, with Ryun a step back. Keino was last, but no more than 10 yards behind Lawson. The first three laps were agonizingly slow as both Ryun and Keino waited for the other to make a move. They did the quarter in 63 seconds, a 4:12 pace, the half mile in 2:10.5, a 4:21 pace. In last place, Keino shook his head and decided Chris Fisher, Ed Sequeira and Tim Tubb were boxing him in. First one would stay inside, with the other two outside; then the inside man and one of the two outside men would switch.
At the half mile Jere VanDyk, Ryun's Club West teammate, swept into the lead. Miffed, Keino swung wide to escape his blockers and sprinted to the fore, dueled VanDyk briefly and then bafflingly dropped back into last place. Ryun had expected Keino to make his move at the quarter, the Kenyan's favorite tactic. When he didn't, Ryun decided Keino had planned a deliberate race and was going to try and outkick him. Ryun almost broke out laughing. Not at sea level, baby, he thought.
With six laps to go on the slow 11-laps-to-the-mile Tartan track at the L.A. Sports Arena, Ryun tired of playing cat-and-mouse and shot in front by 10 yards. Oh, oh, said Keino, once again circling wide and sprinting into second, seven yards behind the streaking Ryun. And that was as close as he would ever get. Ryun ran the last 440 in 56.7 to win in a relatively slow 4:06.8. Keino finished second in 4:07.3.
"My God," said a friend to Anne, "did you see the look on Jim's face that last lap? Like he was ready to run. through a brick wall before he'd let anybody beat him. If Keino had tried to pass him, Jim would have thrown a punch at him."
"Not Jim," said Anne, "bless his beautiful heart."
After Ryun ran his victory lap, he turned into a tunnel that cuts under the stands into a circular hallway outside the arena. He jogged through the hall to warm down. A few thousand fans fled the stands to jog after him.
"Well," said Al Franken, the meet promoter, "the Pied Piper is back for good."
The previous afternoon the Pied Piper had sat in a restaurant and sipped ice tea, showing as much tension as a man about to slip off for a round of golf with a few friends. A year ago he was seen in public the day before a race as often as a black bear is in midwinter. And he said about as much.
"Last year I wanted to race people like Keino but I didn't think I was ready, either physically or mentally," Ryun said. "Now I know I am. I just needed last year to find myself after the layoff. I don't build a good foundation quickly. Some people can. I can't. I'd rather start slowly and make sure the foundation is strong. I still wasn't sure of myself until I raced Marty Liquori in Philadelphia. When I ran—and lost by something like a foot—well, that was the last thing I needed to know. A lot of people thought it was a disaster. Not me. It answered a lot of questions. I found I could train real hard and still have time for my family. And that I could respond under pressure against tough competition. When I crossed the finish line I was thinking of just one thing—Munich."
"Keino popping up here doesn't shake you?" someone asked.
Ryun laughed. "No, I sort of suspected he would all along. I trained hard for the meet. I trained harder last fall than I have in a long time. Just stamina work. No speed. That will come later. And now I know that if I am rested I am ready for anybody. When I trained for this race I had Kip in mind, but if he didn't race, well, it's a lot easier to come down than to suddenly have to go up. The only thing is mental, to remember that Kip is in the race."
"Remember? You mean you might forget a small fact like that?"
He laughed again, something he does quite often now. "No, it won't be hard to remember. At the same time it won't be hard to remember that John Lawson beat him here two years ago. I guess I'll just go out tomorrow night and see what Kip does. He's had two races recently and he's racing again tonight in San Francisco. He'll probably be tired. I see where Tom Von Ruden said if Kip was going to win, he'd have to break four minutes."
"I bet Keino loved that," said Anne.
"I don't think it shook him too much," said Ryun. "All he said was, 'Who's Von Ruden?' You know Kip. Not much bothers him."
Evidently unbothered, Keino won at San Francisco in 4:01.2, with Von Ruden second in 4:01.5. Keino got to bed at 3 a.m., was up at 6:15 to catch a plane to Los Angeles and spent the afternoon walking around with his countryman, half-miler Cosmas Silei. At 3 p.m. they wandered back to Franken's home, where they were staying.
"Where have you been?" demanded Army Major Geoffrey Kinuthia, the "team" manager. "Have you eaten?"
"I had a 7-Up," Keino said.
The major frowned. "I insist that you eat something now."
"Not now," Keino said.
"But I insist."
"Ah," the major sighed. "We so hard to be a manager. The runners are so temperamental. They are always changing their minds. I plan something and at the last minute they say, no, we don't want to do that, we want to do something else."
"What I want to do right now," Keino said, "is to get a few hours' sleep. I'm a bit tired."
"Don't you want to think about the race?"
Keino looked surprised. "What is there to think about? Strategy?" He grinned. "I have no plan. You make a plan and something happens and pffft! you are in a problem. I'll just go out and take it as it goes. If you have strength, you have strength. If you don't, you don't. All races are just competitions. You don't run against a Ryun, you run a competition. I'm going to go to bed."
Shirley Franken, the promoter's wife, watched Keino and Silei head upstairs. "Don't worry," she said. "When they wake up I'll fix them a nice big steak. Of course, they won't eat much. They eat about as much as a little bird. Isn't that Kip a darling? They stayed here a few days before they went to San Francisco and we were planning things they could see. All of a sudden, Kip turns to the major and starts chattering in Kenyan. He talks for about a half minute and then he yells 'hippie.' What was he saying, Major?"
"He didn't yell 'hippie,' I did," Kinuthia said. "He was talking to me in Swahili. He wanted to know what you call those young people with the dirty old clothes and the long hair. He wanted to see one."
"He's going to San Francisco and the thing he wants to see the most is a hippie?" Mrs. Franken said. "My God, if that wouldn't blow the minds of the Chamber of Commerce."
The man whose mind is about to blow is Al Franken. His beef is that the AAU is persecuting him. Early last week, he says, Ollan Cassell, the AAU's executive director, told the Kenyans they could compete for everybody but Franken.
"That son-of-a-gun," Franken muttered. "This guy simply and flat out has a vendetta against me. Like when Ron Clarke ran here for me all the time, he said, 'Hey, Clarke always runs for you, you must be giving him something.' And now he tries to get me over a lousy phone call he should have made."
"I don't have a vendetta against anyone," Cassell retorted. "We have 25 indoor meet directors and...well, if one guy is allowed to operate outside the rules, then it should be the same for them all."
The rule Cassell says Franken broke is one of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's, which states, in essence, that only the AAU can negotiate with foreign athletes who want to compete in the U.S.
"Bull," said Franken. "Last September, Dick Bank, a guy who lives in Los Angeles, saw Kip in London and asked him if he wanted to run in the Sunkist. Kip said, 'Super.' So I called Ollan and told him to invite the Kenyans. Weeks drifted past and nothing happened. Finally I get a letter from Kenya saying Kip was coming to run here and in San Francisco, and that Ollan had been notified. So I called him again. He said, 'How do you know that? You are operating illegally. You have been in contact with Kenya.' Then he meets Kip at the airport and tells him he can't run for me. And he tells him he can't even stay at my house. There's nothing in the rule book that says I can't call Kip and ask him how the lion hunting is. I could have been clean if I had had my wife call. It's so unbelievably ridiculous."
But when the smoke settled, Keino competed and Ryun beat him, and afterward the victor was being pressed to explain his strategy. "Well," said Ryun, "my only plan was to stay ahead of Kip and everyone else right to the finish line."
"Hey, Jim, forget the race for a moment," said Anne, waving a program at her husband. "Look at what I've got."
"What's that?" Ryun said.
"Kip Keino's autograph," she said. "He signed my program. I told him he wasn't going to get away again without doing it."
Ryun shook his head and smiled. "Anne," he said, "let's go home. And remind me to pick up the trophy on the way out. I keep forgetting them."