holder of 7 of the fastest 13 miles ever run by a
Glenn Cunningham was born in
Atlanta, Kansas, on
August 4, 1909, and grew up in Elkhart. When he
was eight years old, a schoolhouse fire took the
life of his brother and left his legs so badly
burned that his doctors wanted to amputate them.
But Cunningham endured the incredible pain and
spent months exercising his legs until he was
able to stand on his own. More exercise
eventually gave him the ability to walk again,
and by the time he was twelve he could run. He
went on to become one of the greatest track stars
of all time.
During his senior year in high
school, Cunningham set a new state record for the
mile of 4:28.3 at the state meet. In July 1930,
at the National Interscholastic Meet in Chicago, he
set a new national record for high school runners
by posting a time of 4:24.7.
Although he entered the
University of Kansas in 1930, he was forbidden by
NCAA rules from competing in intercollegiate
competitions until his sophomore year. In 1931,
the Big Six Conference named him the outstanding
cross-country runner of the season. The following
spring he competed in the half-mile, mile, and
two-mile races, and went undefeated through the
1932 conference season. He then became the first
runner in conference history to win both the
half-mile and mile runs in the Big Six
Championships, as well as the University of
Kansas's first NCAA track champion by winning the
mile run at the National Intercollegiate Meet.
In 1932, Cunningham qualified
for the United States Olympic Team, and then went
on to finish fourth in the 1,500-meter run at the
Los Angeles Games.
Returning to the University of
Kansas after the Olympics, Cunningham
successfully defended his NCAA title in June
1933. In February 1934, at New York's Madison
Square Garden, the "Kansas Flyer"
established a new indoor record of 3:52.3 for the
1,500-meter run. The following month, at the
Columbian Mile in the same arena, he broke the
indoor mile record by posting a time of 4:08.4.
After again winning the Big Six titles in the
mile and half-mile runs in 1934, Cunningham
prepared for the Princeton Relays, an
invitational that served as a warm-up for the
1934 NCAA championships. There, on June 16, he
defeated Princeton's star miler by forty yards
and established a new world record of 4:06.7.
Cunningham could now lay claim to seven of the
thirteen fastest miles ever managed by a human.
After getting married and
taking a honeymoon trip to the Orient in the fall
of 1934, Cunningham entered graduate school at
the University of Iowa to pursue a Masters Degree
in physical education. He also continued to
compete in Amateur Athletic Union meets, and at
the Knights of Columbus Games in March 1935 he
broke the world record for the 1,000-yard run.
That same year he broke his own indoor record for
the 1,500-meter run by almost two seconds.
Competing at the 1936 Olympic
Games in Munich, Cunningham ran the 1,500-meter
race four-tenths of a second faster than the
previous world mark. However, he finished
six-tenths of a second behind Englishman Jack
Lovelock, meaning he had to "settle"
for a silver medal. (In fact, Lovelock was the
only runner against whom Cunningham did not own a
head-to-head advantage for his career.)
After the Olympics, Cunningham
enrolled in a doctoral program at New York
University. Although the demands of working
toward a PhD made it increasingly difficult to
train, he continued to dominate middle-distance
events at AAU meets for another three years. He
even managed to win the mile event at a Memphis
meet despite having had to take an examination at
NYU the night before and not getting an
opportunity to eat before the competition. In
late February 1938, at Dartmouth College's indoor
track, Cunningham set the world record for the
1,500-meter run by posting a time of 3:48.4; the
record would stand for seventeen years.
After retiring from running in
1940, Cunningham became a rancher and devoted his
time to helping youth. He died on March 10, 1988.
Awards and Honors He
the 1933 Sullivan Award for
being the nation's top amateur athlete
charter inductee into the Kansas Sports Hall of
charter inductee into the USA Track and Field
Hall of Fame, 1974
named by Madison Square Garden as the most outstanding track athlete
to perform in the facility, 1978
In addition, the University of
Kansas Track Team presents an annual Glenn
Cunningham Award to the track athlete who best
exemplifies the triumph of an individual over
Madison Square Garden
Questions or comments about