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02-09-2006 Bill Blewett

Jim Ryun and the Big 8 mile


Jim Ryun won the Big 8 mile that year in 4:08.5. If you look closely at the photo you'll see my nostrils flaring as I reached the quarter in 60.5 not feeling at all lightfooted as I had a week earlier when we ran Kansas in a dual meet in Norman. I led the Big 8 race for 2 1/4 laps. I was advancing to the rear of the pack by the 1320 mark (in 3:14) and took on a passenger in the last quartermile to finish 14th out of 16.

I had never run the mile before I came to OU as a walk-on freshman (I ran a 2:01 880 in one season of track at Lawton High). In cross country as a freshman, I ran my first mile, 4:58, in a time trial on the Duck Pond course, so when I hit 4:19.0 indoors my sophomore year, 1967, I plotted my improvement chart with a slope that I though compared favorably to Ryun's. When Ryun and company visited Norman on May 13, 1967 for the OU-KU dual meet, the press played up his coming from the angle that OU's greenhorn miler would be taking on the world's best. Ryun had run 3:53.7 the summer before and 3:51.3 about a month after his visit to Norman.

The mile in that dual meet is probably one of the most curious races OU track fans have ever seen, I'm sure. I didn't know, of course, that coach Bob Timmons had told his KU milers to train through the meet; neither did the capacity crowd of about 3,000, who probably expected to see the first sub-4:00 mile ever run in the always-windy State of Oklahoma.

I took the lead at the start and ran my fastest splits ever -- 62, 2:06, 3:12 -- and when I got the nerve to look back, I saw I had built a 25-yard lead, which I held through 2 1/2 laps. All three Jayhawks caught me in the final lap but didn't pull away until the last straighaway. They finished side by side in 4:14.6 and I ran 4:15.6. Frank Boggs of the Daily Oklahoman wrote a column about the race. His lead was: "It really would have been pretty funny Saturday if the judges had peered across the finish line and determined that Jim Ryun blew it and Bill Blewett won it."

It may have seemed like my effort was a Quixotic quest, but I really didn't have any plan or think much about my approach to the race. I certainly did not plan to lead the race or try to run Jim Ryun into the ground. I didn't score any points -- OU lost by a couple of points when KU won the mile relay -- so I couldn't quite understand why people were congratulating me after the race.

Jim Ryun truly embarrassed me in other races. In the freshman mile of the 1966 Big-8 indoor meet (added to the program just for Ryun), he ran 3:59 on the little 12-lap Kansas City track, and the first two runners he lapped were Pete Carney and me. That distinction was reported in
the Daily Oklahoman as well (When Pete saw the paper he shouted: "Why did they have to print that?"). But Ryun also inspired me. As a freshman I set my goal was to run sub-4:00, and I actually believed I could. My best mile at OU was a 4:07.8 relay split at Texas Relays my senior year. Three years later, in 1972, I ran 4:02.1 in the Meet of Champions in Houston. I competed seriously through 1976 but never bettered that mark. Today I joke that not breaking 4:00 was the great failure of my life. In reality, trying to break it -- running track at OU -- led to the successes of my life.


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