GOSHEN — Jim Spivey may be the best men’s distance runner in U.S. history.
But now that he’s retired from competitive running, Spivey remembers one failure more than any of his successes.
“I made the Olympic team in 1984 and finished fifth at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in the 1,500,” Spivey remembered. “So when the Olympic trials came around in 1988, I expected to make the team and compete for a medal. Unfortunately, the pace was slow in the final, I finished fourth and missed making the team.”
That was hardly the end for Spivey.
“Not getting to the Olympics that year was, of course, disappointing, but it helped to motivate me to work hard and compete every time I ran,” he said. “Later that year I ran my personal best in the 1,500 (3:31.01) and I knew that in 1992, if I stayed healthy, that I’d have another shot.”
Spivey not only made the Olympics in the 1,500 in 1992, but made it to the 1996 games in Atlanta, where he competed in the 5,000 at age 36.
The Indiana University graduate was at the Goshen Relays on Saturday representing the ASICS brand running shoe, which he’s helped build into one of the top running shoes in the U.S.
Spivey didn’t begin running competitively until he was a sophomore in high school, when his school’s cross country coach saw him run a 6:48 mile in his gym class. By the time he was a senior, Spivey finished second in Illinois in cross country, while claiming a state championship in track in the 880.
While at Indiana, Spivey won 13 Big Ten titles and was awarded All-American honors 13 times. For the 1981-82 school year, Spivey was named the Big Ten Athlete of the Year after winning two NCAA individual titles, the National Sports Festival title in the 5,000 and the 1,500 title in the USA vs. USSR dual meet in the Soviet Union.
On the world stage after college, Spivey’s greatest success came at the World Championships in Rome in 1987 when he took home a bronze medal in the 1,500. He was also a five-time member of the U.S. World Championship teams.
But Spivey admits that the opportunity to run at the Olympics trumps all other accomplishments.
“The Olympics are the absolute pinnacle of our sport and you know when you compete there, the world is watching,” Spivey said. “So not only are you representing your country, but you’re also facing the best runners in the world.”
Following the ’96 Olympics, Spivey became the men’s and women’s cross country and track coach at the University of Chicago, where he had 13 All-Americans in NCAA Division III. He also coached women’s cross country and was an assistant track coach at Vanderbilt for four years.
“There are a lot of things that go into it,” Spivey said of what makes a good distance runner, “but the biggest thing is the wanting to get better and working hard. I know that sounds easy, but training to run the distance races isn’t easy and there are days that it will just beat you down. But you have to stay committed.”
Of course training in the Midwest has its own challenges, especially in the winter.
“I can remember being on a track by myself one day in December, when the snow was flying, the wind was blowing and it was just miserable,” Spivey said. “I wanted to go home and crawl under the covers after every lap. That was a day the track actually won. But I remember driving away that day — and a lot of days, to be honest — and saying, ‘OK, you won today, track, but I’ll be back tomorrow and it will be my turn.’ To me, that’s the kind of attitude you have to have in order to be a great runner and beat those cruel workout days.”