Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This Day in Villanova T&F History

On this day in 1967, as a recently graduated senior at Essex Catholic high school in New Jersey, Liquori competed at the AAU Championships in Bakersfield, California, running in the mile finals. Jim Ryun, running from the front, ran 3:51.1 to break his own World Record in the mile (3:51.3). Marty Liquori finished 7th in 3:59.8 and become the 3rd prep runner to run a sub 4-minute mile. Ironically, Liquori finished just ahead of the 2nd high schooler to break 4-minutes, Tim Danielson (1966-3:59.4), who finished 8th in 4:00.6. Ryun, of course, was the first to go under 4-minutes when he ran 3:59.0 as a junior in 1964. This excerpt from the July 3, 1967 issue of Sports Illustrated:
Then, at about 9:15 Friday evening, Jim Ryun took over. With a race plan few people expected, Ryun rushed into a lead at the start of the mile run, widened his advantage for three laps, then sprinted the last quarter in 53.5 seconds, leaving his nearest opponents some 40 yards behind. Suddenly the 1967 AAU could no longer be remembered for such earlier disappointments as Boston's troubles or Jim Hines's tainted sprint victory over the infuriated Greene. Ryun had run the mile in 3:51.1.
The time was .2 second under his previous world record, set last summer at Berkeley, Calif. This one was achieved without the aid of pacesetters or opponents strong enough to push Ryun to his limit. Instead, it was Ryun who pulled the others along. Jim Grelle, who is 30 years old and had run only one mile race all season, placed second in 3:56.1, and the first seven finishers broke four minutes. Four of them, including Martin Liquori, the high-schooler who was seventh, were under four minutes for the first time. Liquori, a small, dark-haired 17-year-old from Newark, shook Ryun's hand eagerly after the race. "I was awfully proud to be in the race," he said. "Thank you for setting that pace."

It appeared that the floodgates had opened for more high school runners to break 4-minutes, but it would be another 34 years before Alan Webb became the 4th prep to get under that barrier in 2001. The following summer in Mexico City, Liquori, having finished his first year at Villanova, became the youngest 1500 meter finalist in Olympic history. All told, Liquori ran 26 sub-4:00 miles in addition to 19 sub-3:42 1500 meters. Liquori went on win numerous NCAA and AAU titles (including two over Ryun) and a stellar international career. Liquori is the last American to be ranked #1 in the world in the mile, and he holds the same distinction for 5000 meters as well.

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