When Jim Ryun broke the World Record in the Mile at Berkeley in 1966 it was a make up meet for the cancelled international dual meets with the Soviet Union and Poland. We were getting heavily into Viet Nam, though all hell had not yet broken out in the streets of Chicago at the '68 Democratic convention. I didn't get to see the race as I was living at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1966. Fortunately our blog has been in contact with one of the runners in that race, Ricardo Romo, the University of Texas miler and long time record holder at that Austin institution. After reading Walt Murphy's blog about that race, I decided to get Ricardo's views of that afternoon on that hard cinder track. Where was he in his career? How did he contribute to that race? What does he remember specifically? Maybe this account will bring up some more questions. Ricardo has been kind to write this piece for us and we thank him for taking that time. Here it is.!
became the first Texan to run a mile under four minutes.
What I didn't know at the time was that only 18 Americans
had ever accomplished that feat. I have been asked many times about writing about that achievement and up to now,
I had not given it much thought. Then I realized that I
spent thousands of hours training to excel in an event that
took me less than four minutes to complete. Was it worth
such an expenditure of time and effort? And would I
recommend others to try it? Yes--here is my story.
In 1960, at age 16, (when everyone called me
Richard) I finished 5th in the state track competition with
a 4:30 mile time, a respectable time for a 10th grader. By
my senior year in high school I had improved my time
significantly. My 4:10 mile was one of the fastest ever by
a U.S. high school runner.
Three state championships earned me a track
scholarship at the University of Texas Austin. UT Austin
had great academic programs and one of the finest track
programs in the nation. I started college with three goals.
To run a su-four minute mile; to graduated from The
University of Texas; and to earn All-American honors in
Track and Field.
At UT Austin I was fortunate to have Pat Clohessy, a
former runner at the University of Houston and U.S.
champion in the 5,000 meters. Clohessy came to UT to
earn his Masters' degree and was offered a graduate
assistantship in the track program. He served as my
distance coach and mentor. Clohessy trained with us
daily throught my freshman and sophomore year and
his mentoring paid off. In the summer of 1963 I improved
my mile time to 4:05 in a track meet in Portsmouth, England.
I came in second but defeated two of England's top
Olympic runners. It was the fastest mile time for a
freshman in the United States. I was on my way.
|Romo (4:05.0) between John Whetton ( 4:05.1) ( and Bill McKim (4:04.9) in that race in Portsmouth|
A serious track injuryin an indoor track meet in Fort
Worth in February of 1965 nearly ruined my track
ambitions. As I started the 1,000 yard run, I felt a sharp
pain in my left ankle. We were running indoors on a dirt
track and thus everyone used regular long spikes. A spike
from the runner behind me caught my ankle and severed
my tendon. I felt the pain, but since I was in the lead, I
decided to finish the race.
I crossed the finish line in first place, but I left blood
dripping from the back of my shin. It was a serious injury
and it required three months to cure the infection in my
leg related to the dirt field. My surgery went well and after
four months I resurmed my training--albeit quite slowly. I
was not certain if the injury would hamper my full
development as a premiere runner. By December I was
back in top shape. I had lost the 1965 track season, but
felt lucky to be competing again.
My preparation for a sub-four minute mile required
superb conditioning and being at the right track meet at
the right time. I was living in Texas, but in the 1960s our
state shut down most of its competitive track meets over
the summer. Everyone agreed that California offered the
best opportunity for competitive meets on a weekly basis
and possibilities for fast times.
In the summer of 1966, I spent the summer in
California with the expressed goal of running a sub-four
minute mile. Two friends made the transition to running in
California possible for me. First Gene Comroe, a UCLA
trackman who hailed from Dallas and competed in the
same Texas state and regional high school meets with me
assisted by providing aspare bedroom for me over that
summer. Comroe was a member of the Southern
California Striders, a track club that included the UCLA
middle distance star, Bob Day. Day was a su-four
minute miler and a world class runner at 800 meters.
Comroe and Day introduced me to Atis "Pete"
Peterson, the Striders' distance coach. Peterson's famous
motto was "Run for Fun, " and many of our workouts over
the summer of 1966 were exactly that. Peterson trained
Bob Day and Ted Nelson, a former Canadian middle
distance star and the American indoor record holder for
1,000 yards. Not long after meeting Nelson, he and I both
decided that we would add extra speed training to our
practice to prepare us for a su-four minute mile.
Two events prepared me personally for my sub-four
minute mile in 1966. While it has been more than 50 years
ago, I remember the events quite clearly. In June of 1966
I competed in the Santa Monica Invitational meet which
featured Cary Weisiger, a former Duke star miler with a
best time of 3:56.6. I ran well that day and beat Weisiger
by more than ten yards. I knew then that my training was
On July 17, 1966 I had my second opportunity to
assess my readiness for a sub-four minute mile. I had
been invited to the Berkeley Invitational where I learned
that Jim Ryun would attempt to break the world record of
3:53.6 set by Michel Jazy in 1965. I had competed against
Jim Ryun numerous times, defeating him once in May of
1964. Two months later, he improved his time and
finished third in the U.S. Olympic trials, which earned him
a trip to the Olympics in Tokyo.
On the day before the Berkeley race, several of us, including Tom Von Ruden, Wade Bell, and Cary Weisiger were approached
by one of Ryun's close track associates about helping Ryun set
a world record. for this article, I will call Jim's friend Dick. Ryun
was a friend and I had competed with him the previous two
years. I finished ahead of him in an invitational meet in Houston
in May of 1964.
Dick asked us to be rabbits for Ryun. My initial plans were to
run close toRyun for the first three-quarters and perhaps run
under four minutes. It was a good plan, but we were convinced that sacrificing a chance for our best times might provide more important track history. Ryun had set his goal of being the first American in 38 years to hold the world record in the mile. Dick made a passionate plea that if Ryun succeeded, the American flage would fly proudly across the globe.
Von Ruden, Wade and I agreed and formulated our running plan. Ryun wanted a 58.0 first quarter and Von Ruden delivered with a 57.7 quarter. I took over with a goal of running a 1:56 first half. I felt comfortable and got to the half mile in 1:55.5. It was a bit fast, but the first quarter had also been fast. I remember that the crowd stared cheering when the half time was announced. They knew that Ryun had a shot at a 3:50 mile.
|Weisiger, Ryun, Romo on the backstretch of the second lap.|
Wade Bell took over from me and led Ryun to 2:55.3 at the third quarter, definitely on world record pace. Ryun always had a great kick and everyone expected that he would run 57 flat or better in the last quarter. He did indeed and his 55.0 seconds last quarter brought him to the finish line in a world record 3:51.3. Ryun had broken the world record by more than two seconds, a highly improbable feat. The two other rabbits stayed in the race as I did. Often the rabbits drop off--exhausted by the faster than usual pace. Von Ruden clocked 4:11.1 and Wade finished in 4:19.3.
|Kansas Relays Program|
Progrm implies that Romo got his 3:58.8 at Texas Relays but it was
at the meet in the San Fernando Valley described below.
I was exhausted at the three quarters mark, but
decided to hang on and, as a consequence I finished third
in the race. Ilearned soon that I had managed a highly
respectable time of 4:01.4, one of my fastest times ever.
Weisiger, who paced himself carefully, finished second
with a 3:58.0 effort. It occured to me minutes after
finishing that if Weisiger, whom I had beaten two weeks
earlier, could run a 3:58 mile, so could I.
Great distance runners build up their endurance and
speed over many years. Every world record holder has
done it differently. Roger Bannister trained religiously, but
did so while studying for a medical career. Herb Elliott
trained three or more times a day and seemed to live only
for setting world records. When Ryun set the eworld record
he was a 20 years old college student and the youngest
ever to be a world record holder in the middle distance.
After the Berkeley mile I returned to Los Angeles to
continue my training. Bob Day, a 3:56 miler often joined
me and other runners for afternoon and weekend runs.
Pete Peterson thought I was ready for a sub-four effort
and selected an invitational meet in the San Fernando
Valley for me to compete in August.
On the day of the race, I took the day off from my job
at the Century Plaz Hotel. To pay my billss I was busing
dishes and washing drink glasses. That summer the job
market was tight and I felt lucky to find work that did not
interfere with my training. I rested all day and left two
hours early for the track meet.
Ted Nelson and I agreed that we would push each
other torun an even pace of 60 seconds per quarter. We
were both excellent kickers and felt confident that we
could finish the last quarter under 60 seconds. All went as
planned. We were dead even with 300 yards to go when I
began to accelerate. My time of 3:58.8 was more than I had expected. Nelson finished ten yards back with an
excellent 3:59.5 effort.
|Finishing his first sub 4 minute mile and with Pete Peterson and Ted Nelson after the race.|
done with the help of others--in some cases many
individuals. Over many years I trained with other
teammates and received excellent advice on how to
prepare. I quickly learned that distance running also
requires discipline and over the yeears I learned to push
myself while setting reasonalbe expectations.
For me, all that training paid off on a cool August
evening whn I became the 18th American to run a
sub-four minute mile. While I thought I might have run
faster, I was humbled to know that my 3:58.8 was the
7th fastest ever by an American and surpassed the best of any
Texas or South American runner. My friends often remind
me that my mile time also made me the first Texan and
first Hispanic to run a sub-four minute mile.
My record stood for 40 years and I was pleased that
when it was broken, it was by a fine UT Longhorn runner
by the name of Leonel Manzano. Manzano broke my
recordd by less than two seconds, but went on that year
to win a silver medal in the Olympics.
For more on Ricardo Romo see the post we did on him with more autobiographical material from several years back.
Ricardo Romo, An Inspiring Story Clik Here
Comments on this posting from various sources have added some interesting information and corrected some errors.
First this from Tom Trumpler
This came from Tim Johnston and Mel Watman describing an error in the photo of Ricardo running in England. We misidentified the winner Bill McKIim and the place Portsmouth. Tim with help of Mel Watman put us back on the right track. As many know, Tim was 8th at the '68 Mexico Olympic Marathon in 2hr 28+ and is the co-author with Donald Macgregor of the book "Otto Peltzer, His Own Man".
1:13 PM (6 hours ago)