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Jim Ryun, Former High School Mile Star And U.S. Congressman, To Receive Medal Of Freedom

By Chrös McDougall | July 21, 2020, 2:48 p.m. (ET)

Jim Ryun #10 competes at the Crystal Palace stadium on Sept. 15, 1972 in London.


Jim Ryun, the high school running phenom who went on to win an Olympic silver medal and then serve five terms as a Congressman from Kansas, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, on Friday.

The Medal of Freedom is awarded by the president “to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to a White House press release announcing the honor.

The White House described Ryun as “one of the most accomplished American runners in history,” while also noting his time in Congress, the three books he has written and his work as a motivational speaker.

President Donald J. Trump will present Ryun with the medal at a White House ceremony Friday.

Ryun will join a long list of athletes to have received the honor, including U.S. Olympians such as Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Bill Russell and Pat Summitt.

Ryun, now 73, first made history in 1964 at age 17, when he became the first high school runner to break the four-minute mile. He went on to compete in three Olympics, from 1964 to 1972, with the high point coming in his second appearance when he won a silver medal in the 1,500-meter at the Olympic Games Mexico City 1968. He also set multiple world records in his career.

The Olympics history website Olympedia describes Ryun as “undoubtedly the finest middle-distance runner of his time.”

Notably, Ryun had been cut from every sports team while in junior high prior to finding his calling as a runner during his sophomore year of high school.

Following his running career, the Wichita native represented Kansas in the U.S. House from 1996-2007.

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.