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one-time holder of 7 of the fastest 13 miles ever run by a human
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 Received
the 1933 Sullivan Award for being the
nation's top amateur athlete
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 personal adversity.
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This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.