Former track star and United States congressman Jim Ryun was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday, making him just the second track and field athlete to have received the award.
Ryun was the first high schooler to break four minutes in the mile, and set a national prep record in 1965 with a time of 3:55.3, according to USA Track and Field — a record that stood until 2001. Ryun appeared in three Olympic games for the United States, first at the 1964 games in Tokyo.
The Wichita, Kansas, native qualified for the games again four years later, and earned a silver medal in the 1,500 meter run in Mexico City. He returned for a third Olympics in 1976 in Munich, too, though didn’t make it out of the qualifying heats.
Ryun set two world records in the mile while running in college at Kansas, and another in the 1,500 meter run in 1967.
Ryun, a Republican, was elected to serve as a representative from Kansas in 1996, and held his seat for more than a decade.
President Donald Trump awarded the 73-year-old the medal during a ceremony at the White House on Friday.
"Jim has personified the greatness of this country throughout his life, whether he was running on a track race or whether he was doing anything he was, running an office or running for office," Trump said in the ceremony, via USA Today. "He's a giant of American athletics, a dedicated public servant and a man of charity, generosity and faith."
The award is meant to “honor individuals who have made great contributions to either the United States or the world.” Ryun joins an elite class of athletes to have earned the award, including Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, Roger Staubach, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and more. Other recent notable recipients include Madeline Albright, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, among others.
Ryun slams national anthem protests
During his acceptance speech, Ryun appeared to slam those in the sports world who have kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice in recent years.
Ryun sees the peaceful protests as disrespectful to the United States flag, despite the fact that countless athletes — including former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to protest in 2016 — have made it clear that the protests are not about the flag or the military in any way.
"In an age when many think it's appropriate to dishonor our flag, I will tell you, it is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to represent this amazing country and represent the stars and stripes on my chest while racing in the 60s and 70s," Ryun said, via USA Today. "There was such pride and love of country and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your full-throated championing of this great country."
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