50 year anniversary of Jim Ryun setting mile world record at BC's Memorial Stadium

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jun 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-23 20:39:38-04

The year was 1967. Bakersfield College's Memorial Stadium was the stage. 

Gil Bishop, then athletic director at BC, brought a number of AAU track championships to the stadium and with it the nickname of "Tracktown USA." A year before the Olympics, those racing on June 23, 1967 were among the fastest in the world. For example Marty Liquori broke the four minute mile and finished in seventh place.

The headliner of the event was a 20 year old sophomore from Kansas. Jim Ryun was coming off being named "Sportsman of the Year" in '66 and a world record he set in the mile (3.51.3). Ryun would later serve as a United States congressman from Kansas and one of his colleagues, Bakersfield's Bill Thomas, helped officiate the meet that night. 

Thomas says most records are broken when a so called "rabbit" runs out in front to set the pace before falling off. "There was no rabbit in the race," he said. "The rabbit was Ryun."

In front of an estimated 12,000 fans, Ryun quickly paced the field on what was a cinder track. Pam Kelley, head track & field coach at BC, says it would have been similar to racing on a dirt track. "The dust kicks up," she said. "It's kind of like if you went to a local high school."

On a sweltering Bakersfield night, Ryun won the race by 40 yards and broke his own world record with a time of 3.51.1. "When he finished the race, in world record time, Gil Bishop asked him if he could run a victory lap," Thomas recalled. "He said yeah and said later he felt good and probably could have run faster."

That was the fastest Ryun ever ran the mile and a record that would stand for almost a decade. 50 years later, he's the last American to hold the world record for the mile. 

At some point BC hopes to have him back to celebrate his history. "That hasn't happened yet but it would be so exciting to have him back inside the stadium where he set the record and see how things have traspired," said Kelley.

A world class moment, forever tied to Bakersfield. "For 1967, in the small town of Bakersfield it was phenomenal," said Thomas. 

Today Ryun directs a running camp with students across the US. 


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