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Ryun vs. Keino (was Track History)


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  • Ryun vs. Keino (was Track History)

    I love to go back in track and field history and compare athletes of the past with current athletes. I realize it's sometimes like comparing apples with airplanes (orange airplanes?), but it's still fun for me. I look at an athlete from the past and try to figure what he or she could do in today's world with all the advantages of modern athletes. Here are three examples. Let me know what you think and go ahead with other events.

    I use to rank Jim Ryun as the top miler, however I would say he is now second or third.
    I rank Bob Hayes number one in the 100.
    I rank Randy Matson number one in the shot.
    Hicham El Guerrouj would be my number one in the mile now.

    What do you think?

  • #2
    Re: Track History

    I'm not sure there's any event harder to handicap than the men's mile.

    I can't see Herb Elliott in his prime losing to anyone. Oh, but wait, nobody can top Peter Snell in his prime either. Oh, and Ryun is the same. And that's before we get to the "modern" guys.

    But I would vote against your El Guerrouj pick, at least if we were talking about an idealized championship race (as opposed to a rabbited run on the Euro Circuit).


    • #3
      Re: Track History

      >At the risk of confusing apples and oranges, a
      >few comments. Of your greats, only Hayes won an
      >Olympic gold. Hayes and Matson made their great
      >marks during an era when steroid use was rampant
      >but no bans were in existence. I am not
      >suggesting that Hayes or Matson used steroids,
      >but we have no way of knowing. >>

      Steroids were virtually unknown when Hayes retired from track. Sure, they were used on the '64 Olympic team, but "rampant"? Not by a long shot.

      As for Matson, I seem to recall a quote from him in TIME back in the mid-60's when he first broke the WR and he said he had tried steroids but since they didn't seem to do any good he had stopped. (There was no reason for him to be disingenuous; there being no rule against them at that point.)

      I wouldn't call steroid use "rampant" until 1968, maybe even 69.


      • #4
        Re: Track History

        It's tough to compare athletes from different eras. Bob Hayes is one of the most, if not THE MOST, naturally talented 100 meter men ever.

        Jim Ryun never got close to his potential. However, based on physiological testing done on Ryun, etc., remarks in books (like The Lore of Running, I believe) the poindexters felt Ryun's physical capacity was for a low 3;40's mile, around 3:43 they stated. This is back in the days of mostly dirt tracks, and no drugs like EPO. With Ryun finishing in 36.4 for the last 300 in a 3:38 race, I'd have to side with the doctors. I think Ryun was the most naturally talented middle distance runner to date. His training was too much in some areas, not enough in others. (from G. Hitchcock at There is a gnawing belief among cognoscente of the mile, at least here in the U.S., that if Ryun had been well-coached he could have run 3:45 for the mile -- even without the "rabbits" and high tech shoes and tracks of today -- and dominated the sport for over a decade. Instead he had a career that mixed brilliance with major disappointments...)

        It's interesting that Ryun and Hayes came along in the 1960's.

        The shot put is tough to put a finger on. No pun intended. The HJ is another tough one, especially with the drug problems of Sotomayor coming to light. Long jump? Carl Lewis, hands down.

        I won't go into the long distance events, as I have been skeptical ever since Dr. Rosa left cycling during a drug investigation and took up with Kenyan runners. I'm not accusing all of them of drug use, but their numbers swelled so fast within a year of Rosa making his move, I wonder. Same thing when you hear about Jos Hermens and his Ethiopian charges. So many stories about Hermens... but nothing's been proven yet. Maybe they're all clean. But with Komen falling apart after a suspension for "excess caffeine", it makes the distances a circus in more ways than one. Geb is amazing, though.

        Triple jump? Edwards or Sanayev? Discus? Too tough to call, for me, anyway. 400? Johnson has the record, but in terms of potential, and in consideration of facilities and training, I'm not sure that El Caballo, Juantorena, isn't right there. His PR came at the end of a horrendous week of running with the 800 heats and finals (OG in a WR 1:43.5) along with the rounds of the 400. His 44.26 (double check) was the fastest sea level time for years.

        800? Coe. So far ahead of so many great runners for so long. It would have been interesting to see how Ryun would have done at this distance had he chosen to concentrate on it.

        Yep. Too tough to compare athletes from different eras. But it's fun anyway, eh? Heck, how do you think Tommie Smith would fare these days, with the same training, the same scientific advances, that built Michael Johnson? Or Steve Williams. I thought Williams was one of the most naturally talented of all sprinters. And cursed with the worse luck.


        • #5
          Re: Track History

          Yeah, the Komen thing was a mess. I didn't go out on more limbs because I thought the post would be too long and boring. But it sure is fun. And there's no doubt some of my branches will be sawed off. Everyone's could. It's all subjective. There's the fun again.

          Brumel is a great pick. I tend to not put too much weight on the Olys (sometimes), as there has been bad luck involved for so many. (Look at Ryun, in '68 mono and altitude, in '72, while not quite at his best, he was knocked down and out)

          Oerter, yeah, hands down. Should have dropped him in my post. Nice guy, too. At least nice to me. A physical marvel. Met him waaaay back when he made yet another comeback in the 80's, and he told me he was stronger than ever. This is when he was closing in on 50! Yeah, I need to kick myself for at least not mentioning him.


          • #6
            Re: Track History

            Thanks for starting this, Roy! My picks undoubtedly shaft the African continent, but here goes:

            100m Hayes
            200m MJ (currently, best WR in track)
            400m Evans
            800m Coe
            mile Seb over Herb, because Seb would out-sprint him. How many milers have had 46 quarter speed? Coe's 1984 performance in LA is astonishing, considered his serious illness just a year before.

            110H Nehemiah
            400H Moses


            • #7
              Re: Track History

              I think Hayes is the top 100 guy. 400 is MJ. 800 goes to Coe by a nod over Kipketer. Ryun wins the 1500/mile in my mind. How many milers had 46 speed? Ryun was one of them. He also set his 880 record 90 minutes after he had run a heat in 1:50, and set his record with negative splits - 53/51, this was before his great year of '67 where he was even better. Just never reached or was pushed to his potential while he was at his peak. Too many problems later. 5k - Auoita. I saw him win the '84 5k in 13:05, and he looked like he had 10 seconds left in him at least. I'm kind of with the earlier post regarding long distance stuff. I think the events have been hit hard by unsrupulous characters the last 10 - 12 years. LJ - Lewis. TJ - Edwards. PV - Bubka, no one could argue there. 400h - Moses, another no-brainer. HJ - Brumel, on competitive record. Discus goes to big Al. Javelin - Zelezny. But I wonder how he'd do with the old implement. 110 H - I go with Nehemiah. Didn't reach his potential, robbed of an Olympic try in '80 by Carter. He looked like he was going to go 12.7 + until his career was interrupted.


              • #8
                Re: Track History

                Ryun, indeed, may have been the unearthliest mile talent to ever roll down God's gumball chute. But Seb Coe delivered both WRs and golds --- two 1,500 golds. Seb found a way to win when the pressure was on. Seb gets my vote. The House of Lords agrees.

                Comparing Hayes and Lewis as the top 100 men is difficult. Maybe we can look to baseball writer Bill James, who makes a distinction between ballplayers who had great careers vs.those who had great *peak* careers. Warren Spahn had a great career. Sandy Koufax had a far greater peak career. Willie Mays logged a better career than Mickey Mantle, even though the Mantle of 1956 topped anything ever done by Mays in a season.

                So maybe we can say Carl Lewis enjoyed the best career of any 100m in history, while Bob Hayes had the best peak career.

                No question on Carl as best long jumper.


                • #9
                  Re: Track History

                  Well, let's see ... I go with Hayes in the 100, based on natural talent. I'm not sure what the criteria are. Are we basing it on career, ability, perceived ability, peak years. Or is it who cares?

                  400? I go with Johnson, but with reservations. The remarks above regarding Juantorena make good points.

                  HJ. I don't think Brumel could keep up with the floppers. Stones had amazing longevity. Sotomayor has cleared 8 ft. but it appears he may have had all kinds of chemicals coursing through his veins.

                  Ryun? He actually performed well under pressure. WR's in paced races and in head to head races, and while not expecting it. A lot like Coe. Ryun had bad luck at the Games. His silver was actually a great run. Coe? Good luck at the Games in '84. Healthy Cram would have crushed him over the last 200. Look at Cram in '83 and '85. Coe was lucky that year much like Peter Rono in '88, with Cram hurt again, Elliot injured, Aouita out, etc. Auoita could have had the 1500 or 5k with little trouble that year, but his ego killed him. I take Ryun in a tactical race over all the milers. I think Ryun was physically stronger than Coe. In fact, I pick Cram to nab second over Coe. But what do any of us know? All conjecture.

                  While Elliot didn't reach his potential, I don't think he could hang with Coe, Cram or Ryun over the last 300 of a mythical showdown.

                  Triple jump. Saneyev has the greatest career ever. Edwards by far the longest, consistently longest too, jumper. By career Saneyev. By talent, marks, Edwards. That's my two cents.


                  • #10
                    Re: Track History

                    Coe got lucky in 1984?

                    Good God. Coe overcame toxoplasmosis. Then in LA he ran his OR (3:32 was it?) in his *seventh* race in, what, eight days?. To assume that a healthy Cram could've waltzed in and blown Coe off the track is a stretch.

                    Agree that Ryun's 1968 run, coming off mono and at altitude, is one of the great underrated performances.

                    Agree Elliott didn't have the kick to hang with these guys. Even Percy Cerutty wrote of Elliott's potential as a two-hour marathoner. But Elliott is mythical. Undefeated. Smoked cigarettes. Broke "the pain barrier" --- whatever that was, it sure made for good copy.


                    • #11
                      Re: Track History

                      >Coe got lucky in 1984?

                      Good God. Coe overcame
                      >toxoplasmosis. >>

                      I'd never heard of this sickeness (I always heard he had mono), so I Googeled, and found this:

                      <<Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite (Toxoplasma gondii) found in uncooked meat. It is also found in the feces of cats who have eaten food infested with this parasite.>>

                      OK, remind me to find some excuse to say no if I'm invited to the Coe house for dinner!


                      • #12
                        Re: Track History

                        my thoughts on some of the controversial ones

                        100 - It's the Bullet. His career ended when he was essentially still a collegiate, and the NFL had invent zone defense to cover him. I believe Cordner Nelson described his performance as "insulting to an Olympic field."

                        TJ - Saneyev was ranked #1 for almost a decade and was called Athlete of the 1970's by this publication. He was also less than a foot from 4 gold medals. If you give Oerter the discus for his Olympic performance, then Saneyev deserves the triple. Edwards has a ways to go.

                        JAV - Zelezny I don't think had quite the career of Janis Lusis. Lusis was consistently in the mix for just about 20 years, earning medals in three Olympics (and placing 8th in a 4th).

                        HJ - I still vote Brumel, who was amazing, but Brumel himself thought Yaschenko was best. I mean, the kid dive-straddled 7-9 when he was only 19 years old.

                        PV - One could make a good case for Cornelius Warmerdam . . . I call it a tie.

                        Mile - The mystique of an undefeated career cannot be overlooked. On the line, I want Elliott.


                        • #13
                          Re: Track History

                          Brumel is the easiest pick of all IMHO. Not fair to compare him with the Floppers.

                          Also, in the PV, I agree that Bubka was the best. He had SPEED and STRENGTH and AGILITY. He would have been better than Warmerdam or Richards if he had been a contemporary of either. 16'0", no doubt, on a bamboo or aluminum pole. Anyone disagree ? Particularly the aluminum. Which leads me to a question about non-fiberglass poles which I will pose as a separate thread.

                          Warmerdam second, Richards third.


                          • #14
                            Re: Track History

                            For the mile, how about Walter George? Including his professional record in the 4:12 range, he set the WR 4 times.


                            • #15
                              Re: Track History

                              Not to take anything away from Ryun, who was America's greatest miler, but does anyone remember Keino's Gold Medal in 68? That run was years ahead of its time.