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Stories of Olympic Distance Running Stars


Jim Ryun:

A nationally-acclaimed runner while still in high school, Ryun was the first high school runner to break four minutes in the mile (3:55.3). He went on to set six world records, holding the world mile record for nine years. He won the Sullivan Award as the top U.S. amateur athlete in 1967 and earned an Olympic silver medal in the 1500 in 1968. Ryun won five NCAA championships at Kansas plus three national AAU titles in the mile.

Ryun is still running – for Congress, in Kansas’ Second District. Ryun represented the district as a Republican for five terms before losing to Democrat Nancy Boyda in 2006. Ryun is attempting to regain his seat. Ryun is also the president of a public relations firm, Jim Ryun Sports, Inc., and has worked to help hearing impaired children. Jim and Anne Ryun live in Lawrence, Kansas. They have four adult children and six grandchildren.

Steve Ovett:

Ovett won the 1980 Olympic gold in the 800 and earned a bronze for Great Britain in the 1500. He was the 1500-meter champion in the first IAAF World Cup in Athletics in 1977 and held world records in the mile and the 1500.

Living in Australia, Ovett has led a low-key retirement from athletics, generally surfacing only to do television work for broadcasters in Australia as well as the BBC and CBC.

Sebastian Coe:

Best known for his duels with the above-mentioned Steve Ovett, Coe is the only male repeat 1500-meter winner in Olympic history, earned golds in 1980-84. He took the silver in the 800 in both years. Coe held world records for the 800, the mile and the 1500. He was the UPI International Athlete of the Year in 1979 and 1981.

A Conservative Member of Parliament from 1992-97, the now Lord Coe became a British peer in 2000. He led London’s successful bid to play host to the 2012 Summer Olympics and is now the chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. Coe also serves as an IAAF vice president and was the first chairman of the independent watchdog for FIFA, the world organizing body for football (soccer, in the U.S.).

Lasse Viren:

The Finnish distance runner saved his best performances for the Olympics, where he won gold medals in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meters in 1972 and ’76. He also finished fifth in the 1976 Olympic marathon and briefly held the world record in the 10,000.

Another ex-runner-turned-politician, Viren served in the Finnish Parliament from 1999-2007 as a member of the National Coalition Party. Viren and his wife live in Myrskala, a small town northeast of Helsinki. His recent public appearances included serving as the starter of the inaugural BUPA London 10,000-meter race.

Frank Shorter:

The 1972 Olympic marathon champion, Shorter also won the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete that year. He earned a silver in the 1976 Olympic marathon and won the NCAA six-mile title in 1969, and both the 10,000 and the marathon at the 1971 Pan- American Games. Shorter won 24 U.S. championships.

The first chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Shorter is a motivational speaker, promotes races throughout the U.S. and served as a color commentator for NBC during the Olympic Games of 1988 – 2000. He owns Frank Shorter Sports, an athletic supply company.

Joan Samuelson:

Samuelson, then known as Joan Benoit, won the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984. She held the world marathon record and won U.S. championships in 1981 (in the 10,000 meters) and 1984 (marathon). She won the 1979 and 1983 Boston marathons and earned the Sullivan Award as the nation's finest amateur athlete in 1985.

A motivational speaker, appearing often at races and running clinics, Samuelson has authored two books, “Running Tide” and “Joan Samuelson’s Running for Women.” To date she hasn’t completely retired. She finished the 2008 U.S. Olympic marathon trial in 2:49.08, an American record for the women’s 50-54-year-old age group. The Samuelsons reside in Freeport, Maine.

Brian Diemer:

The most recent American steeplechase Olympic medalist, Diemer earned a bronze at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. He also competed in the 1988 and 1992 Games was the U.S. track and field captain in ’92. Diemer placed fourth at the 1987 World Championships. He earned the gold medal at the 1990 Goodwill Games and the silver at both the 1995 Pan-American Games and the U.S. Olympic Festival that same year. He was the NCAA steeplechase national champion for the University of Michigan. Diemer won the Glen Cunningham Award, presented to the top distance runner in the U.S., in 1989.

Diemer has been the men's cross country coach at Calvin College (in Grand Rapids, Mich.) since 1986 and has served as assistant men’s and women’s track and field coach at the school. He’s been named the NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year twice.

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