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Jim Ryun

Jim Ryun

Athlete, politician. Republican. Born: April 29, 1947, Wichita, Kansas. Served in U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd District: November 27, 1996, to January 3, 2007.

In July 1966 a tall, slender youth from Kansas ran the mile in a world record 3 minutes and 51 seconds and became one of the most recognizable athletes in the nation. James Ronald Ryun accomplished this at the age of 19.

He had emerged two years earlier while attending Wichita East High School where he became the first high school student to break the four-minute mile by running it in 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Ryun attended the University of Kansas and quickly rose from schoolboy sensation to become the world's premier middle-distance runner. In 1966 he held world records in the mile, half-mile and the 1500 meters.

His trademark was the sprint to the finish line. He was a member of 3 U.S. Olympic teams, yet he never won an Olympic Gold medal. He was named the Native Sons and Daughters' Kansan of the Year in 1966. Ryun was the favorite in the 1968 games in Mexico City, but he fell victim to a furious early pace and the high altitude caused him to loose to Kip Keino of Kenya.

Four years later in Munich, he again was the favorite, but did not advance beyond the first heat. Jostled on a turn, he fell and was denied re-entry by the International Olympic Committee. Ryun ran briefly as a professional but never approached world-class times again. In 1996 he was elected U.S. Congressman from the Second District in Kansas, a position he held for four terms. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump on July 24, 2020. 


Entry: Ryun, Jim

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: July 2020

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.