Former Olympian visits Elder


photo from Mrs. Kathy Hirth

The captains of Elder’s Cross Country team giving Jim Ryun an Elder Cross Country shirt.

Jim Ryun is one of the best distance runners in US history. Last week, he stopped by Elder High School while in town to talk to the cross country team as their season began to wind down.

While younger, Ryun wasn’t the best athlete around and was cut from his church baseball team, junior high basketball team, and his junior high track and field team. Luckily for him, this made him fall in love with distance running.

“I found myself trying out for the cross country team and running two miles pretty easily even though I’ve never run that distance before,” said Ryun.

After that cross country tryout, Ryun’s historic running career blew up as he became one of the best high school athletes of all time. As a junior, Ryun was the first high school track athlete to break the four minute mark while running a mile in 1964. Later in his high school career, Ryun set a high school record in the mile time with a 3:55.3. This was the fastest time for any American runner in the mile for 36 years.

Throughout his incredible career, Jim Ryun was a three-time Olympian (1964, 1968, and 1972) while winning the silver medal in the 1,500 meter run in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as well as being named the best high school of all time by (beating out LeBron James and Tiger Woods), Track & Field News Athlete of the Year in 1966 and 1967, and the 1966 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

Each time Jim Ryun was out on the track, many fans throughout the United States tuned in to watch this special runner race including Elder’s own Cross Country coach, Mr. Spencer.

Spencer recalled several races from Ryun’s memorable career, “I remember his great mile race with Marty Liquori in the Philadelphia ‘Dream Mile’…I also remember his second place finish at the high altitude of the Mexico City Olympics and he would’ve won at sea level.”

Ryun was a huge part of the beginning of Spencer’s long career involving distance running.

“Meeting with Jim Ryun was special to me because I grew up with him. He was in the news as one of the top runners in the world just as I was getting into track and field and distance running. To a young struggling runner, the idea of a high-schooler running a sub 4:00 mile was almost unbelievable,” commented Spencer.

Although the prime point of Jim Ryun’s running career was long before any members of the cross country team were born, listening to him talk was still a memorable experience.

“It was cool hearing someone who has done so much within the sport of running give a talk to our team about what it takes to be a good runner,” said senior captain of the team, Adam Noeth.

His fellow captain, Ryan Schenkel, added, “It was pretty crazy to meet one of the best runners to ever live.  He had so many stories and past experiences that he shared and I learned from those and it was just amazing to meet an Olympic runner.”

The experience of Jim Ryun speaking to the team has also been something that the coaches can use to motivate the members of the team.

“What I liked most about his visit was when he reiterated many of the things we, as coaches, tell the athletes.  Work hard, get enough sleep, and channel that nervousness into a positive.   Sacrifices must be made to be the best, but in the end, they aren’t really sacrifices at all.  What you will gain is far greater than what you thought you might have lost,” said Spencer.

For those in attendance, listening to one of the greatest track athletes in history, Jim Ryun, will be an experience that they will never forget.