Former track star Jim Ryun awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Former track star Jim Ryun awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom
Former track great Jim Ryun was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday by President Donald Trump. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jim Ryun, the first U.S. high school runner to break the 4-minute mile.

Ryun, 73, who also served for a decade as a Republican congressman from Kansas, won a silver medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City while competing in the 1,500-meter run. The three-time Olympian also competed in the 1964 Tokyo games and in the 1972 Munich games.

“Jim has personified the greatness of our country throughout his life, whether he was running on a track race, whether he was doing anything there was, running an office, running for office,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “He’s a giant of American athletics, a dedicated public servant and a man of charity, generosity and faith.”

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As a 17-year-old junior at Wichita East High School in 1964, the Kansas native broke the 4-minute barrier when he ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59 seconds at the California Relays, The Associated Press reported. He was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1966, when he set the world record in the mile at 3:51.3.

“It is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to represent this country with the stars and stripes on my chest while racing in the ’60s and ’70s,” Ryun said after Trump draped the medal around his neck.

Ryun’s children also spoke during the ceremony, The Wichita Eagle reported.

“Dad, thank you for being the man that you are,” Catharine Ryun said. “I know that today is all about your accolades in the public eye, but you have been such an amazing dad and (husband) of more than 50 years to Mom. And just a man of character. This is a man that loved the Lord with all his heart.”

Ryun served in Congress from 1996 to 2006.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, The Wall Street Journal reported. It is considered the nation’s highest civilian honor and is awarded to people “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,” the White House said in a news release.