Monday, May 30, 2011

Great Villanova Moments at the NCAA Championships: #1

June 21, 1969: Marty Liquori Defeats Jim Ryun for NCAA Mile Championship

At the Tom Black Track in Knoxville, Tennessee, Villanova's Marty Liquori won the first of his three consecutive NCAA outdoor mile championships. The 1969 amd 1971 victories set NCAA championship meet records. The 1969 race was a showdown between the reigning Olympic silver medallist and world record holder Jim Ryun of the University of Kansas, and Villanova's Marty Liquori, an Olympic finalist at Mexico City in 1968. Ryun had run 3:51.1 in Bakersfield, California on June 23, 1967, breaking his own year-old world record. He had beaten Liquori in a photo finish at the NCAA indoor meet earlier in 1969 in Detroit and Liquori was still looking for his first victory over Ryun.

In the 1969 race in Knoxville, Liquori beat Ryun handily (see photo above) and Villanova's Frank Murphy was third, giving Villanova 16 points and helping the 'Cats win the 1969 NCAA team title. Here are the complete results for the race:

1969 NCAA Mile Finals
1. Marty Liquori Villanova University 3:57.7 10
2. Jim Ryun University of Kansas 3:59.3 8
3. Frank Murphy Villanova University 3:59.8 6
4. Chuck LaBenz Arizona State University 4:00.5 4
5. Howell Michael College of William & Mary 4:01.4 2
6. Bill Smart University of Washington 4:02.1 1
7. Chris Mason Villanova University 4:02.8
8. John Kerr Ball State University 4:05.9
9. Dickie Kleier University of Tennessee 4:10.3
10. David Glanz University of Missouri NT
11. Brian Kivlan Manhattan College NT
12. Elliott Evans Drake University NT

Here is how Track & Field News described the race in its July 1969 issue:

Everyone expected Jim Ryun to win as usual, for he had gone four seasons without a mile loss. Only 19-year-old Martin Liquori was given any chance, and Liquori himself did not expect to win. He had an intestinal virus six days before, and for two weeks he had cut his workouts by two-thirds because of a sprained ligament at the rear of his arch. He said, "I didn't think I would do any good."

Liquori's coach at Villanova, Jumbo Elliott, instructed Liquori to get ahead of Ryun before Ryun made his move and try to stay ahead, for it has many years since anybody beat Ryun from behind.

With Ryun running near the rear, Liquori had to be ahead of him on the first lap. After Chuck LaBenz led the pack around in 60.5, Ryun moved up on the second lap, running outside two runners on the second turn. Behind LaBenz in 2:02.8 came Brian Kivlan of Manhattan, Liquori and Frank Murphy of Villanova, and Ryun.

Again Ryun ran wide, outside Murphy, and he followed Liquori around the second curve. Liquori moved faster, passing the 1320 in 3:03.5 with Ryun on his shoulder. Down the last backstretch, Liquori poured it on. "I expected him to pass me any minute. I kept waiting for him." But while he was waiting, Liquori was running with speed and grace, and Ryun was running hard to stay with him. Into the homestretch, with the field now 10 yards behind them, Ryun was on Liquori's shoulder and everyone expected him to win. He tried hard, but "that last 100-yards for me was rugged."

But Liquori maintained his beautiful drive, and with 30-yards to go Ryun dropped back. Immediately, Liquori reacted with a pleasure never seen while a race was still on. He grinned. He looked at the sky. He shouted for joy. He waved his fists. His last lap of 54.2 gave him victory in 3:57.7, a new meet record. Ryun slowed to a jog at the finish, 1.6 seconds behind, and only half a second ahead of Murphy. He said of Liquori, "He ran a fine race."

Ryun made no excuses for losing, athough after his trial on Thursday he had mentioned the humid heat and his reaction to a vaccination. His coach, Bob Timmons, thinks the problem of having to come back in the three-mile [Ryun DNF'd in the three mile -- BC] had something to do with it. Also, Ryun gave away 10- to 15-yards by running wide. At any rate, he is apparently not in the condition he was two years ago when he could run the last lap at this pace in 52 seconds or faster.

Liquori said, "I just went into this race to warm up for the AAU meet [where he defeated Ryun again -- BC]. I had doubts abiout finishing. I figured whatever happens, happens."

(Photo with permission from

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