We received the sad news from several sources today that Tom Von Ruden passed away yesterday under care of hospice in Phoenix, AZ. It grieves me personally, because I was able to watch him develop in his early years at Oklahoma State University while I was a year or so ahead of him at the University of Oklahoma. I usually did my watching from behind while eating cinders he was kicking up. We were huge rivals as teams and there was little love lost between the programs.
I remember coming back from my time in the army in 1971 and seeing him on Wide World of Sports running in a meet in Scandanavia with long hair and beard and wondering what might have been had I stayed with it a few more years. I think he was also drafted but got to Ft. MacArthur with the Army track program, where his former coach Ralph Higgins had turned up after retiring from OSU. That program attracted some pretty good runners. Apparently you could talk your way to the program if you were already in the army, but Coach Higgins could tell pretty quickly if you were bluffing about your abilities. If you were lieing, you would be on the next plane to Southeast Asia.
I remember in 1964 OSU first showed well on the indoor cicuit in Albequerque with Dave and John Perry, Jim Metcalf, and Tom. We lined up against them in the 2 Mile Relay and were in the race for about a leg until Tom got the baton, and he had a major break through with a 1:51 or so on that lightning fast 10 lap high banked track painted bright red. That same night Adolph Plummer ran the 440 and the tight, high banking produced so much centrifugal force, his legs collapsed in the middle of the turn. He took out most of the field when he went down. He was able to laugh about it afterward.
From that time the OSU Cowboys were on a roll that would carry them to the World Record in the 2 mile relay. OSU also picked up a great long distance runner that year in Chris McCubbins who would go on to represent both the US and Canada in international competition winning the Pan American Games Steeplechase. Later that season I was able to finish 3rd to Robin Lingle of Missouri and Tom in the Big 8 Indoor 1000 yards. That was one of the highlights of my college running career. Not many people got around those two. Robin, Tom, and Chris are all gone now.
Below is a personal account from Darryl Taylor that I received this morning about Tom and the 2 mile relay careers of the Cowboys and also Tom's national and international racing history. Darryl ran for Long Beach State and then joined the 49er Club with Tom and John Perry out in California.
From Darryl Taylor
still love the sport in general and the middle-distance/distance events in particular.I guess this is the place I (we)
are in now as we all reach this tender old age, some in better shape than others. I received a troubling message
last night from John Perry, a former 49er TC team mate. The message contained a note that another 49er TC
member and team mate, Tom Von Ruden was in hospice care at a Phoenix hospital, the result of brain cancer
that had metastasized.
formed 49er Track Club was in the midst of a world class recruiting spree, Tom Jennings having already secured
the services of Harry McCalla (Stanford), Preston Davis (Texas), Jim Kemp (Kentucky) and Tom's Oklahoma
team mates Dave and John Perry. Coming down the ramp to the tarmac I met a trio of middle-distance runners
that included Harry McCalla, Tom and Preston. When they greeted me and introduced me to Tom it came with
the admonition that the following evening, Saturday the 28th, in Tingley Arena, the four of us would be attempting
to better the world indoor record for the 2-Mile Relay. I can understand their concern as four sub-4:00 milers
were looking at a middle of the road half-miler to pull his weight in this attempt. Try as I might to get some sleep,
I spent a restless night trying to convince myself that I would not be the cause of failure and disappointment to
this stellar cast.
after the race follows:
right where I wanted to be, about five yards back from the team from Texas Southern. The Texan took
off and I followed as that big red track just flew by. As we went into one of the turns, T.J. was yelling
51-52-53 as we passed the quarter post in 53.0. My boy kept leading and before I knew it we had just one
lap to go. I sensed that he was slowing so I went by as hard as I could on the backstretch. All I did from
there was use my arms and pump. Soon there was Tom Von Ruden waiting to take the baton. All he did
was blast a 1:49.2 and put our team out of reach of the competition. His huge lead as he passed to
Preston Davis made it as easy win, Preston's 1:52.1 anchor just as beautiful as Tom's 3rd leg. Our final
time of 7:25.6, according to T&F News, was a new record for indoor tracks of 10 laps to a mile or less.
After my second leg, it was a solo effort as Texas Southern finished almost a full lap behind at 7:40.4 "
turned out to be my life-time best indoor relay leg, Tom at 1:49.2 and Preston at 1:52.1. For me, it was as
exciting an experience as any I ever had as a runner. Later in the year, we won the New York AC games and
the National AAU Indoor Championships in Oakland. Tom would go on to represent the USA at the 1968 Olympic
Games in Mexico City and when given the chance to put the club’s best four middle-distance runners together
outdoors, they chased the outdoor 2MR record and the DMR record also. Tom set world records, if memory
serves, at 880 and 1000 yards indoors.
opportunity to be teamed with these incredible runners who fueled my desire to emulate their achievements,
something I was never able to match. God Bless you Tom Von Ruden for what you contributed to the world of
Track and Field and to the imagination of this middle distance runner.
first made an appearance as a runner for Oklahoma State. I found no mention of his name on the collegiate
front during the 1963 season, but in 1964 he began a stellar career that saw world records and an Olympic Final
appearance at 1500 meters.
represented OSU at the NCAAs with a 9th place finish in the 1500 at 3:45.1, roughly equivalent to a 4:02 mile.
Meanwhile, his team mate twins, Dave and John Perry, were also making news under Coach Ralph Higgins.
Dave Perry placed 7th in the NCAA 800 final at 1:50.1 with a best time of 1:49.6 while John ran 1:50.3 for 880 in
a dual meet against Missouri.
the 880 list, Tom found himself as the 4th fastest at Oklahoma, his 1:50.7 at the Oklahoma Federation meet far
behind teammates Dave Perry at 1:47.7, John Perry and fast improving Jim Metcalfe both clocking 1:48.5, John
in the Southern Federation meet and Jim in the Semi-Final of the NCAAs. It was certainly obvious that the recipe
for a very, very fast 2-Mile Relay was on the books. It didn’t take long for Coach Higgins to pick a major West
Coast Relay event to put it into practice. The Fresno Relays provided the perfect venue. Jim Metcalfe led off at
1:50.6 while John Perry’s 1:47.5 was the fastest split. Tom Von Ruden recorded his first sub-1:50 here with a
1:49.3 carry before Dave Perry soloed 1:51.0 to establish a new World Record of 7:18.4. Coach Higgins was
quoted as follows:
distance medley relay tonight. And we can’t come to the Coliseum. I told the boys this was their last
chance. They ran well. But they could do better with some real competition, and with anchorman Dave
Perry in full health.”
outdoor challenges. They bid farewell to Dave Perry with a 2nd place showing in the Millrose Games at 7:35.6
but were later disqualified. They reached 7:36.6 at the USTFF, missing the services of Dave Perry with
replacement Droke running 1:56.4 in lead-off position before John Perry took over in 1:52.6 which was enough
to secure the win with Jim Metcalfe’s sub-par 1:56.2 and Tom Von Ruden’s anchor leg of 1:51.4. Dave Perry
was off to the west, winning the 600 in the LA Times Games in 1:11.1 over the Strider’s Ron Whitney. This
would be Dave’s final race under Oklahoma colors as he joined the ever more powerful 49er Track Club in time
for the National AAU Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, NM. Dave joined Dave Kemp, Darryl Taylor and
Dave Mellady to establish a meet record and the world’s fastest time for 1966 at 7:27.4. All at 5,000 feet of
elevation. Dave Kemp, former Marine and LA State runner led off with 1:51.6. Darryl Taylor, former Long Beach
Stater, pulled even with New Mexico’s John Baker with his 1:51.7erasing a 5 yard deficit passing to Dave
Mellady, former Chicago TC ace who hit 1:54.0 before passing to the newest addition to the club, Dave Perry.
After the race Dave explained that he had not been able to train much this past winter and was disappointed
that his goal of going under 1:50 was missed with his 1:50.1 anchor. Back on the home front Tom Von Ruden
posted a 2:10.2 1000 while John Perry clocked 1:52.1 in the Big 8 indoor finals.
matured with a solid 4:01.1 for 2nd place in the Big 8 Final. Nationally these marks represented 10th and 14th.
His team mates were lighting up the track also, John Perry’s 1:47.7 just edging Jim Metcalfe’s 1:47.8 at the
Big 8 Championship. Dave Perry, now competing for the 49er Track Club, checked in with a solid 1:48.2 in the
AAU Championships for 3rd place in his heat.
set about to establish himself as a runner to reckon with. Setting the table for a stellar indoor campaign, a late
January trip to Albuquerque saw his third leg 1:49.2 880 help erase the fastest 10 lap per mile world mark for
the 49er Track Club to 7:25.6. Joining him in the record run were Harry McCalla, former Stanford star , leading
off in 1:53.1, Darryl Taylor-1:51.2 and Preston Davis, former Texas star anchoring in 1:52.1. That 1:49.2 split
was one of the fastest ever recorded indoors and the 7:25.6 winning effort was the 3rd fastest ever indoors on
any sized track. Barely taking a deep breath, a short week later, on February 4th in San Diego, it was the
American record for 1000 yards that fell, his 2:06.8 following splits of 53.7 and 1:51.0.
chasing Jim Ryun to the line in 4:03.3 to Ryun’s 4:02.3 but besting Dyrol Burleson’s 4:03.8. A two-week break
and Tom was busy again, hitting 4:02.6 in a mass finish at the New York AC Games while his 49er TC mates
won the 2-mile Relay in 7:29.8 (McCalla-1:53.4 Taylor-1:53.3 J. Perry-1:53.0 and anchor Preston Davis-1:50.1).
Oregon and Fordham fell with good times of 7:30.2 and 7:31.8.Tom was in action again in Louisville for the
Mason-Dixon Games and cemented his stellar credentials with yet another World Record at 880 yards. This
was accomplished on an oversized 220 yard track with wildly differing negative splits. Passing 440 in 56.5 Tom
ripped 52.5 for his 1:49.0 World Record. Tom’s quote after the race: “The early pace was a little slow. You
usually set records with a faster first quarter.” Tom wrapped up his indoor season with a National AAU
Indoor Championship 2-Mile victory. Hosted in the Oakland Arena, the officials miss-marked the passing zones
but adjusted splits to fairly accurate times. Darryl Taylor’s 1:55.2 was enough for a 10 yard lead over NYAC’s
1:56.7. John Perry split 1:54.6 while a flu weakened Tom Von Ruden just held off NYAC’s Bryne’s 1:53.1.
Preston Davis, reporting to the Army in San Pedro, California the next Tuesday, anchored in 1:52.5 for a short
stride victory as the 49ers went 7:36.9 and NYAC clocked 7:37.0.
now a 49er, ran 1:48.7 for 800 meters at the World Games for 3rd place in June. In March, John Perry’s 1:48.1
was decidedly faster when translated into 800 meters, a PR of 1:47.4. Dave Perry’s 1:49.6 for 880 translates to
1:48.9 for meters in a tri-meet at Occidental in May. Von Ruden’s 1:49.6, although slightly inferior to his World
Games mark, still ranked even with Dave Perry’s ’67 best. Former team mate Jim Metcalfe, still at Oklahoma,
made the top 20 for the year with a solid 1:49.0 for 880 good for 1:48.3 meters.
events as his chosen shot at making the Olympic team in Mexico City in 1968. In pursuit of that dream, it looks
like the 800/880 was an afterthought, perhaps a way to work on his leg speed for the Olympic Trials. And here,
Tom had a stellar season. Tom and future team mate Sam Bair made the most of their National AAU race in the
night air of Bakersfield, California, on June22-23. Tom followed Jim Ryun in his heat, both hitting 4:07.5. Ryun
had stated a goal of going under 3:50 but the early pace, 59.0/1:58.9 negated that goal. 2:57.4 at 1320 set up a
sprinter’s finish, Ryun lowering his world record to 3:51.1 while towing the field to one of history’s deepest sub-4
results. Tom’s first open mile under 4:00 was stellar at 3:56.9 in 4th place, a strong indicator for the Trials some
months later. On a roll, Tom continued his quest for the Oly Trials, winning the PAM TRIALS in July as he won
a crazy 1500 by inches at 3:49.7 ahead of Sam Bair-3:49.7, Jim Grelle-3:49.8 and Dave Wilborn-3:49.9. Tom
also won the Pam Am Games 1500 in a slow (2:05/3:04) pace mad dash to the finish line, hitting 3:43.3 over
Sam Bair’s 3:44.1. Extending the season even longer, Tom lowered his 1500 best to 3:41.0 while winning the
America vs Europe race over Arne Kvalheim , Jean Wadoux and Sam Bair. It was beginning to look like that
mostly idle indoor season was paying off. T&F News’ World List for August now found Von Ruden occupying #8
at 1500 and #5 in the mile.