Former Kansas track & field athlete Jim Ryun was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump Friday. The award recognized Ryun’s accomplishments on the track and in public office.
The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, awarded by the president to individuals who have made notable contributions to the national interests of the country, to world peace, or other significant public or private endeavors.
Ryun, who is now 73, attended KU from 1965-69 where he broke world records in the 880 yard, 1,500 meter, mile, and two-mile runs. Ryun was a five-time NCAA Champion during his time as a Jayhawk and was a six-time world record holder during his running career.
Nicknamed the “master of the mile,” Ryun was the first high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes. He went on to become a three-time Olympian, winning the silver medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics. He was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1980.
Ryun represented the 2nd district in Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996 to 2007. He was a member of the Republican Party.
Ryun joins several other Jayhawks who received presidential honors, including Bob Dole, who was honored in 1997, and former Kansas men’s basketball assistant Dean Smith in 2013. Ryun also is the first track and field athlete to receive the honor since Jesse Owens in 1976.
"He's a giant of American athletics and dedicated public servant and a man of charity, generosity, and faith," Trump said during the White House ceremony. "He's a great man, actually. Jim, thank you so much for your unfailing devotion to our country."