Class of 1965
By running the first sub-4:00 mile by a schoolboy in 1964, and setting a record the following year that stood until 2001, Jim Ryun became a high school running legend who greatness strongly resonates still today 52 years after his prep career concluded. Training under the demanding Bob Timmons — a legend himself — at Wichita East HS in Kansas, Ryun was a 4:40 miler at the start of his sophomore season in 1963, but improved in huge chunks that spring, down to 4:32, 4:26, 4:21, 4:16 and finally to 4:07.8.
Unbeaten vs. preps at 1,500/mile his final two years, he lowered his mile PR to 4:06.4 as a junior at the 1964 Kansas state meet, then set his first national record the next week with a 4:01.7 against elites (4th place) in Modesto. Then racing a super elite field in Compton two weeks later, Ryun ran 3:59.0 — despite being knocked off the track on the 2nd lap — finishing 8th but establishing his legend. He was even better in the AAU 1,500, taking 4th in another prep record – a staggering 3:39.0 — then placed 3rd in the 1964 Olympic Trials to make the U.S. team for Tokyo. Battling illness at the Games, he made the semis, but missed the final.
In his senior year state meet, Ryun clocked 3:58.3 — still the fastest-ever mile in a prep-only race. Over the next month, he twice lowered that record (vs. elites) to 3:58.1, then 3:56.8. Then after a fine 4:04/9:04 Golden West 1M/2M double, Ryun famously beat Olympic champion and world-record holder Peter Snell in San Diego with his final prep mile record of 3:55.3 — a mark not surpassed until Alan Webb ran 3:53.43 in 2001. It was also the fastest mile ever by an American runner, period – until Ryun himself clocked world records of 3:51.3 and 3:51.1 the following two years as a Kansas U. collegian.
All told, Ryun went under 4:00 five times as a high-schooler and also sub-3:42 for 1,500 four more times, as well as 1:50.3 for 880 yards. Only he and Gerry Lindgren (also 1964) have made U.S. men’s Olympic T&F teams in distances over 800 meters. Given that he ran on tracks far inferior to today’s ovals, and still having the fastest time in a prep-only race, many consider Ryun to be the greatest high school miler ever to this day. In fact, ESPN selected Ryun as the greatest overall high school athlete of the 20th century.
Did You Know?
In his senior year state meet, Ryun clocked 3:58.3 — still the fastest-ever mile in a prep-only race.