The most anticipated track and field event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games was the match up in the 1500 meters with Jim Ryun taking on Kip Keino of Kenya.
Jim Ryun was an incredible runner. As a junior in high school in Kansas he was the first high schooler to run a 4 minute mile. He still to this day holds 5 of the top 6 fastest miles of any high schooler. He was so outstanding that ESPN would name him the Greatest High School Athlete of All Time. Pretty heady stuff when you consider ESPN always wants to name someone current the ‘Greatest of All Times” on their lists. Jim Ryun at one time held the world record in the one mile, the 800 meters and the 1500 meters. Going into the 68 showdown with Kip Keino he was unbeaten in the 1500 for 3 years. But he had a couple things going against him. In June of 68 he had mononuclosis. Also going against him was the high altitude of Mexico City. Kip Keino would have an advantage here, he trained in the high altitudes of Kenya.
Kip Keino had a few things going against him also. He was suffering from terrible stomach pain which turned out to be an infected gall bladder. He also was entered to run 2 other races before the 1500, in the 10,000 with 2 laps to go he doubled over in pain due to his stomach ailment, fell to the infield, got up and finished the race but was disqualified. Four days later he ran in the 5000 meters and won a silver medal. On the way to the stadium the day of the 1500 meter race he got caught up in traffic and jogged the remaining mile to the stadium.
Going into the race Keino’s strategy was to get off to a big lead. Jim Ryun’s finishing kick was famous. He wanted to distance himself from Ryun. He did just that, running in what some considered a suicidal pace he got a huge lead. All the observers thought he’d hit the wall at some point and Ryun would reel him in but it never happened. Ryun had his great finishing kick but couldn’t catch Kip Keino who won the gold in olympic record time. Jim Ryun won the silver.
Kip Keino would win 1 gold and 1 silver in both the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. The great Jim Ryun would never win gold. He would be my nominee as the “Greatest Track and Field Athlete to Never Win A Gold Medal” He would be there in 1972 Munich. In a qualifying round he was tripped, fell, got back up but the 8 seconds he lost when he fell, he couldn’t recover from. The US protested that he was tripped, the IOC said he was tripped but they still denied the appeal.
Kip Keino today lives on his farm in Western Kenya. Jim Ryun would be a member of the US House of Representatives representing his district in Kansas from 1996-2006.