Ryun is my favorite miler of all time. I recall riding my bicycle to the neighborhood library in 1969 at the age of 13 and reading "The Jim Ryun Story."
In hindsight, though, I think he was horribly overtrained by his coach, Bob Timmons. One summer, Ryun lived with the Timmonses on their farm. Ryun would work out twice a day, usually doing lots of hard intervals, and would do farm chores in between workouts.
It's pretty obvious that Timmons was pushing Ryun to short-term glory. Timmons had had some earlier coaching fame with Archie San Romani at Wichita East, and the success he had with Ryun made him a coaching superstar. He got an offer to head KU's track program, so he didn't even coach Ryun in Ryun's senior year. The assistant coach, J.D. Edmiston, was Ryun's coach. So Timmons got a huge career boost thanks to Ryun.
At Kansas, the hard intervals continued, along with the track success. Ryun ran a 3:51.3 world record as a 19 year old but only improved by two/tenths of a second the following year. In the biography, which went through the 1967 season, Nelson shrewdly hinted that Ryun was getting burned out. As I recall, he quotes Ryun as saying that he needed a break from running.
But Timmons apparently would have none of it, because 1968 was an Olympic year, and Timmons wanted his gold medal. But Ryun was getting a lot of "junk injuries" (Ryun's term) that hampered his training. A few months before the Olympics, Ryun got mononucleosis. But he had to limit his rest period because of the Olympics. It seems like he was falling apart by then. In the Olympic trials, he dropped out of the 800 meters, even though he was the world record holder at that event and had never dropped out of a race before. I recall that Timmons's hard-ass approach caused a rift between the two.
The following year, Ryun's senior year in college, he ran poorly but was still able to win most of his races by running 4:00 to 4:04. But he was struggling to run under four minutes for the mile. Liquori beat him in the NCAA indoor championships and Ryun would later drop out of the NCAA outdoor championships. He gave up running at that point. He was out of track at the age of 22.
He would make a comeback in 1971, though. There's the famous "Dream Mile" or "Mile of the Century" with Liquori. Ryun ran well in that race, but he was horribly inconsistent. He would run well run week, but he would be just as likely to run 4:07 the following week and finish dead last.
Some attributed this to his allergies. Others thought it was the lingering effect of mono. Still others thought it was due to all the years of intense anaerobic training. it was clear that something was wrong, but no one knew what to do about it, including Timmons, who incredibly was still Ryun's coach.
Ryun's on again, off again performances continued into 1972. He ran 3:52.8 on a good week, but he was still running 4:08-4:10 on bad weeks. No one really knows which Ryun would have shown up at the 1,500-meter final. But it's likely that he would have not won the gold. Pekka Vasala had run 1:44 that year for the 800 and Ryun failed to qualify for the US team in the 800, although he did run 1:45.9 to finish fourth (check me on the time, I'm going by memory).
This fourth-place finish was considered something of a victory, because it showed that the faster version of Jim Ryun had shown up for the trials.
We all know what happened in the Olympics. Ryun was accidentally tripped and went down with a no-name runner from Africa. His races right after the games were not that impressive, either. So he would have done well to get a bronze medal behind Keino.
After the 1972 season, he joined a newly formed professional track circuit and ran a couple of 4:20 miles before retiring for good.
I always wonder what he could have done if Bob Timmons had not been his coach. What if Ryun had been blessed with a coach who really understood training for the long term? Ryun would have almost certainly been the first man to break 3:50 in the mile. My guess is that he would have run 3:46 before hanging up his spikes.