Jim Ryun Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

LAWRENCE, Kan. – University of Kansas track & field great Jim Ryun received the nation’s highest civilian honor on Friday, as he was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from United States President Donald Trump.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by the President of the United States to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Ryun, one of track & field’s most prolific figures in history, attended KU from 1965-69, where he owned world records in the 880 yards, 1,500 meters, mile and two-mile runs and was a five-time (four indoor, one outdoor) NCAA Champion as a Jayhawk. Throughout his running career, Ryun was a six-time world record holder.

At the age of 17, Ryun became the first high schooler to run a sub-four-minute mile, which his record mark of 3:55.3 stood for nearly 36 years. As a high school senior, he was voted the fourth-best miler in the world and High School Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News and was later one of 30 athletes in the inaugural class inducted into the National High School Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2018.

Ryun, who was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1966, was a three-time Olympian (1964, 1968, 1972). During the same year, the Wichita, Kansas native, was named the winner of the AAU Sullivan Award for the top amateur athlete in America. Ryun won the silver medal in the 1968 Olympic Games in the 1,500 meters and was a winner of three U.S. titles in the mile.  Ryun was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1980.

After his running career, Ryun served in the United States House of Representatives from 1996 to 2006, representing the 2nd District in Kansas for the Republican Party.

Ryun is among several Jayhawks to receive presidential honors, including Robert Dole who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997 and former KU basketball assistant Dean Smith, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Other former athletes to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recent years, joining Mariano Rivera (2019), Jerry West (2019), Bob Cousy (2019), Tiger Woods (2019), Alan Page (2018), Babe Ruth (2018) and Roger Staubach (2018). Ryun also joins Jesse Owens (1976) as track & field athletes to receive the award.