Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Ryun vs. Liquori Duels

Liquori defeats Ryun for the 1969 NCAA Mile title

So far as I am aware, Marty Liquori and Jim Ryun raced each other a total of nine times (although two of the nine races -- the 1968 Olympic Trials 1500 meter final and the 1968 Olympic 1500 semi-final -- were qualifying races where the goal was to advance among top finishers, not necessarily win outright).  Ryun won the first five races. The sixth race -- the 1969 NCAA indoor mile championship in Detroit -- was a photo finish, with Ryun declared the winner, but Liquori still believing years later that he had in fact won. The final three races were won by Liquori, punctuated by the 1971 Dream Mile that landed Liquori on the cover of Sports Illustrated (see left). I don't believe they ever faced each other again. Here are the nine races:

1. June 1967 at the Compton Relays in Los Angeles: Jim Ryun, a 20-year old rising junior at the University of Kansas and already the world record holder at 880 yards, won the mile race. Liquori, a senior at Essex Catholic in New Jersey and a few months short of enrolling at Villanova, was chasing his first sub-4:00 mile. He had run a 4:04.4 at the 1967 Penn Relays that spring and was in California on a three-race swing in search of fast races. At Compton, Liquori came closer to achieving his goal, coming third in 4:01.1. A few days later, in San Diego, Liquori ran 4:00.1 and beat his future Villanova teammate Dave Patrick. In his next race versus Ryun, a few days later on June 23rd in Bakersfield, Liquori would achieve his goal.

2. June 23, 1967 in Bakersfield, California: At the US AAU national mile championship, Jim Ryun set a world record in the mile, running 3:51.1 (a record that would stand for eight years). Liquori, an 18-year old senior at Essex Catholic in New Jersey, qualified for the finals by running 4:08 in the heats the day before. In the final, he finished 7th, but became the third high school prep runner to break the 4:00 barrier, running 3:59.8. Fifteen days later in Los Angeles, Ryun would add the 1500 world record to his resume, defeating Kip Keino in 3:33.1.

3. September 1968 in Lake Tahoe, California: The "second" 1968 Olympic Trials were held at altitude to simulate the Olympic venue at Mexico City. The pre-Trials buzz was that Villanova's Dave Patrick would challenge Ryun for mile supremacy, but it was not to be. Ryun won easily and Patrick finished in the dreaded 4th place (and off the USA team).  However, Villanova's sophomore Marty Liquori surprised observers by finishing second to Ryun (see video, right) and making the US squad. Liquori went on in Mexico City to become the youngest ever 1500 meter finalist in Olympic history.

4. October 19, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico:  Both Ryun and Liquori advanced easily on October 18th in separate preliminary heats of the 1500 meters.  Ryun won heat 4 in 3:47.5, while young Liquori won heat 5 in 3:52.7.  They would both be slotted for heat 2 of the semi-finals for the next day, with the top 6 finishers qualifying for the Olympic final.  On October 19, 1968 Ryun won the 1500 meter semi-final heat #2 in 3:51.2.  Liquori came fourth in the heat, in 3:52.1.  Liquori thus became the youngest person in Olympic history to qualify for the 1500 meter final.  That race would occur the next day.  Unfortunately, Liquori injured his foot in this semi-final, putting his competitive chances in the final at grave risk.  

5. October 20, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico: In the Olympic 1500 meter final, Kip Keino displayed a courageous case of front-running and won the Olympic 1500 meters in an Olympic record 3:34.91. Jim Ryun (who had not previously lost to Keino) trailed by 25 meters and took the silver in 3:37.80. Marty Liquori decided to run in the final despite the stress fracture in his foot, and came 12th and last in 4:18.22.

6. March 1969 in Detroit, Michigan: At the NCAA Indoor Championships Ryun and Liquori waged an epic battle over one mile that resulted in a photo finish (see right). Ryun was declared the winner, with Liquori a disappointing second. Ryun and Liquori were both timed in 4:02.6.

7. June 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee: The NCAA Outdoor Championship mile witnessed Liquori's first victory over Jim Ryun (see photo, right). Liquori won the race in 3:57.7, with Ryun second in 3:59.3. Villanova had two others in the final: Frank Murphy was third in 3:59.8 and Chris Mason came seventh in 4:02.8. The 16 points scored by Liquori and Murphy helped Villanova win the NCAA team title.

8. July 1969 in Miami, Florida: Fresh off his NCAA win over Ryun, the two men faced each other over the mile distance in the AAU Nationals. Famously, Ryun DNF'd, walking off the track after two laps and into a temporary "retirement." Marty Liquori won the race (see photo, right) and the national crown in 3:59.5 over Sam Bair.

9. May 16, 1971 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: In one of the most anticipated races in US track history, Ryun and Liquori faced off at the Martin Luther King Freedom Games "Dream Mile." Ryun was coming back from his malaise-driven temporary retirement and Liquori was trying to defend his "king of the hill" status. A rather pedestrian early pace produced quarters of 61.1 and 62.2. Seeing the half-mile time of 2:03.3 and wary of Ryun's 800-meter speed, Liquori jumped to the lead and began a legendary long kick. The two men covered the final two laps in 56.7 and 54.6 (1:51.3 for the second half) and Liquori held off Ryun down the stretch to win (and to appear on his only Sports Illustrated cover).

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