Olympian: Hard work, focus make good things happen

Published 12:44 am Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Failure is only a temporary detour to success.

That’s the message a former world record runner shared with the county’s cross-country runners Monday morning.

Jim Ryun shared a video of his 1965 world-record run – a 3:55.3 mile at the AAU Championships when he was a senior in high school – but explained that he got kicked off of a lot of sports teams before he discovered his talent for speed.

“I grew up with a loss of hearing, so I spent most of my time in junior high and grade school as the nerd,” Ryun said. “Growing up as a nerd in high school, I wanted to have some type of identity.

“I knew that I wanted to become a sports person, and my first opportunity for sports was baseball.”

Ryun said that he moved from every position on the field before being cut from the team.

“I started out in the outfield, then I had the privilege to move to the infield, then I had the highest privilege of sitting on the bench,” Ryun said. “It wasn’t long after that, that I was cut from the baseball team and to make matters worse, it was my church baseball team. So baseball didn’t work out.

“I know that some of you may have had the same situation, but don’t be discouraged,” he said. “Everyone fails at some point. Failure is a temporary detour to success.”

Next, Ryun tried out for his junior high basketball team.

“I was a lot taller than most of the people in my grade,” Ryun said. “So half way through the first practice the coach told me that he would like to see me in his office and I thought to myself, ‘Wow I must have really impressed him.’

“When I went in his office after practice he said that I played differently from the other boys and that my basketball days are over. For me that was a crushing experience, because I wanted my life to amount to something.”

Ryun said that even after all of that rejection he still persevered, trying out for his junior high track team.

“I never got cut from the team for three years,” Ryun said. “I remember thinking that there was something more for me, and I would go home every night and pray and ask God if there was a plan for me and if he could make it in sports it would be really appreciated.”

After finally making a sports team, Ryun was the last man on the “C” team of his high school cross-country team.

“I started as the last man on the team,” Ryun said. “So if any of you are discouraged because you are not where you want to be, just give yourself some time. Over a span of a couple of weeks, I went from last man, to junior varsity, to number one person on the cross-country team. If you are willing to work and put focus and concentration into the little things, then good things will happen.” Ryun was listed in ESPN’s Top 10 Best High School Athletes of the Century, ahead of Tiger Woods and Lebron James.

As a high school senior in 1965, Ryun ran a 3:55.3 mile at the AAU Championships to defeat Olympic champion Peter Snell. His record would stand for almost 36 years, broken in 2001 by Alan Webb.

During a time when sub-4-minute miles were relatively scarce, Ryun broke 4 minutes as a junior, then ran his record 3:55.3 mile as a senior in 1965. He holds five of the six fastest schoolboy miles, most on much slower track surfaces than today’s. While still in high school, Ryun competed in the 1,500 meters in the 1964 Olympics, making it to the semifinals.

Later at the University of Kansas, Ryun set the world record for the half-mile and ran a 3:51.3 mile to shatter the old record by two and a half seconds. He competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, taking silver in the 1,500 meters at Mexico City.

Ryun also is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Kansas from 1996 until 2007. He and his wife were in Andalusia to speak at Monday night’s Sav-A-Life banquet.

Covington County Superintendent of Education Shannon Driver said because Ryun was speaking Monday night, he asked if he could also address athletes.
“We were not expecting it, but we asked if he could come talk to the track athletes and he graciously accepted,” Driver said.