The Robinson Library
The Robinson Library >> Track and Field Athletics >> Biography
Jim Ryun

the first high school student ever to break the 4-minute mile

Jim Ryun

James Ronald Ryun was born in Wichita, Kansas, on April 29, 1947. Whether he ran competively as a child is unknown, but by the time he got to high school he was ready to start setting records.

In 1963, as a sophomore at Wichita East High School, Ryun placed second in the mile with a time of 4:32.4; it would be the only time he ever lost a mile race while in high school. In 1964, he became the first high school student ever to break the 4-minute mile, with a time of 3:59.0; he is still the only high school junior to ever break the 4-minute mark. In 1965, he established a new high school and open mile record with a time of 3:55.3 against reigning Olympic champion and former record holder Peter Snell; that record stood until 2001, when it was broken by Alan Webb with a time of 3:53.43. Ryun's one-mile time of 3:58.3 at the 1965 State Finals is a record for high school runners that still stands today. During his senior year (1965), Ryun was voted the fourth best miler in the world by Track & Field News.

Following his junior year, Ryun qualified to run the 1,500-meter for the United States at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He was eliminated from competition in the semi-finals.

In 1966, as a freshman at the University of Kansas, Ryun set a world record in the 880-yard with a time of 1:44.9. On July 17, 1966, he set a new world record for the mile with a time 3:51.3, beating Michael Jazy's old record by 2.3 seconds. That same year he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and was honored with the Sullivan Award, given to the top amateur athlete in the United States. In 1967, Ryun set records in the indoor half-mile (1:48.3) and outdoor 1,500-meter (3:51.1), and broke his own outdoor mile record with a 3:51.1; his mile record stood for almost eight years, his 1,500m record lasted seven years. He graduated with a degree in photojournalism in 1970.

Ryun was a silver medalist in the 1,500-meter at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City; he failed to reach the finals in that event at the 1972 Munich Olympics when he was tripped in a qualification race. He retired from active competition soon after Munich and founded Jim Ryun Sports, Inc., which operates sports camps and provides motivational speakers for corporations and organizations. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1980, and into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 1996, Ryun was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of U.S. Congressman Sam Brownback, who left the House for a seat in the Senate. He was subsequently re-elected to three full terms in his own right before losing his fourth bid in 2006; he ultimately served from November 27, 1996 to January 3, 2007.

Ryun currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Anne; the couple has four grown children. He is the co-author of three books -- Heroes Among Us; The Courage to Run; In Quest of Gold: The Jim Ryun Story.

National Distance Running Hall of Fame

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Track and Field Athletics >> Biography

This page was last updated on July 17, 2018.