Swenson One Golden Runner

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Sept. 29, 2009 Kansas State Official Sports Report. To register for your free subscription to the Kansas State Official Sports Report, visit www.officialsportsreport.com. This is the first of a four-part series, exclusive to OSR, on the four Kansas Staters - Ken Swenson, Don Calhoun, Ken Mahoney and Steve Henson -- who will be inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita on Sunday.

by Mark Janssen, Senior Writer, Kansas State Official Sports Report

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Ken Swenson admits, "I would have laughed."

In 1966 as a senior at Clay Center High School, had someone told him six years later he would be representing the United States of America at the Olympic Games, "I would have laughed."

He explains that while he did go undefeated in high school and won the state title in the 880-yard run, he insists, "I was just average. I was nothing special at all. I was running in the 1:54s and 1:55s. I just wanted to make the roster at Kansas State."

Swenson did make the K-State roster. In fact, now running in the 1:45 and 1:46 range as a junior and senior, he would go on to anchor four Wildcat teams to World or American records, and two NCAA championships.

Oh yes, in 1972 he also was the American record-holder in the 880 with a time of 1:44.8, which broke the mark previously held by Kansas' Jim Ryun, and later became a member of the  United States Olympic team.

For these accomplishments, Swenson will be inducted on Sunday into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in ceremonies in Wichita. He will be joined by three other K-Staters in the class of 14 - Steve Henson, Ken Mahoney and Don Calhoun.

"It's quite an honor," said Swenson from his Londonderry, New Hampshire, home. "Those are some great K-Staters."

Swenson, who was enshrined into the K-State Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, was almost forced to make his mark at Fort Hays State University.

"I think Ernie Barrett (then KSU AD) recruited me more than DeLoss (Dodds, KSU track coach)," Swenson laughed. "I don't think he was too enamored with an athlete from Clay Center. But I couldn't understand that because he came from Riley."

As Swenson tells the story, Dodds lost out on the recruits he really wanted, so he signed Swenson for books and fees.

"I just decided if I was going to dance, I wanted to be in the big dance," said Swenson of his choice of K-State over Fort Hays State.

He would soon be grouped on relay teams that included the likes of sprinters Dale Alexander, Terry Holbrook and miler Jerome Howe. Together, they would strike fear on the relay circuit, which included stops at Texas, Kansas and Drake.

As a senior, Swenson helped K-State to a Big 8 Indoor team title, and later he won the 880 titles as the NCAA and AAU championships. In 1971, he ran to the gold medal at the Pan American Games while in the United States Army and competing on the Service Teams.

Then came 1972.

"I didn't know about my chances to make the Olympic team because I was in the Army and probably not training exactly how I should, and wasn't getting the competition that I should," Swenson said.

Swenson did make the team, but would not place in the Munich Games that became better known for events off the track.

Twelve days into the competition, the Games were interrupted when eight Arab terrorists, representing the militant Black September group, entered the Olympic Village and took 11 members of the Israel Olympic team hostage. While the world watched on television, the terrorists demanded freedom for several Arabs held in Israel prisons.

The Israel government refused, and late in the evening the terrorists took their hostages to Fürstenfeldbruck, an Army air base near Munich. All the Israelis were murdered by a bomb the terrorists had set in the helicopter which was to take them to freedom.

"As athletes, we never felt we were in danger," Swenson said of the event. "We were on the other side of the village and really felt pretty secure."

As an amateur runner, Swenson can now tell this story on how athletes survived.

Unable to accept prize money, athletes were allowed to be under contract with shoe companies so they could get free equipment.

"We weren't under financial contract, but we would find money stuck in the shoes that they were giving us," said Swenson. "I guess I can say that today. It was the only way we could pay the bills as amateur athletes."

Now retired, Swenson's career of choice was representing the Converse Shoe Company for 30 years, specializing in track and field, and soccer.