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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former WSU runner Paul Ryan almost hung up his spikes, but he’s still kicking toward his Olympic dream

Former Washington State runner Paul Ryan will compete in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene.  (Courtesy)
By Peter Harriman The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – When Paul Ryan donned Cougar crimson nearly a decade ago, he joined a Washington State University distance running legacy that included the likes of four-time world record-holder Henry Rono and Bernard Lagat (fixed from earlier), a three-time Olympic medalist and two-time world champion who holds the U.S. record for 1,500 meters.

The 3-minute, 26-second mark Lagat ran in 2001 remains the second-fastest 1,500 run in history.

While Ryan has not burned as brightly as those stars, he shines in the same firmament.

He will be taking part in his second Olympic trials on Friday, chasing Lagat’s record – if only theoretically – and his own dreams of reaching the trials finals and possibly claiming a spot on the Olympic team.

Ryan qualified for the trials with a 3:36.65, posted at the Portland Track Festival on June 9, and he is looking at improving on his seventh-place finish at the 2021 trials.

“There are a few guys who have run a lot faster times,” Ryan said, “but the third spot on the team is up in the air.”

Former WSU runner Paul Ryan will compete in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials.  (Courtesy)
Former WSU runner Paul Ryan will compete in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials. (Courtesy)

Unlike Rono and Lagat, who came to WSU from the mother lode of modern distance running, Kenya, Ryan is home grown. He won 12 varsity letters in cross country, track and basketball at Moscow’s Logos School, including four in cross country when he was coached by his mother, Allison Ryan, who formerly competed in track and field at the University of Idaho.

At Logos, according to his father Max Ryan, he was not even eligible for state championships until his junior and senior year, after former Latah County legislator Tom Trail introduced a bill to allow charter and Christian schools to compete for them.

Since Logos did not have a track, Ryan did most of his training on the Moscow School District facility. His father still appreciates that opportunity.

Ryan made the most of it. As a senior, he won the 400, 800, 1,600 and 3,200 in Logos’ division at the state meet.

According to his father, Ryan powered through much more than the lack of a home track. While ice skating as a 5-year-old, he snapped a femur. In ninth grade, while playing lacrosse, he broke the femur again in the same place, requiring a surgical fix and a bone graft.

“He had incredible grit. Paul always had to keep pushing,” Max Ryan said.

A couple of sub-4:10 miles in high school led to his WSU recruitment in 2015. He concluded a solid if not spectacular college career in 2021, making All-America after finishing eighth in his final 1,500 in 3:40.5 at the NCAA Championships, just off the Olympic trials qualifying standard.

At the urging of a friend, instead of hanging up his spikes and calling it a career, Ryan ran a couple of more races and made the trials standard.

“He always seems to be Mr. Clutch,” his father said.

Ryan has continued to improve.

Since 2021, he has been running professionally, sponsored by Adidas and representing the Golden Coast Track Club in San Diego.

“It has been a fantastic experience, traveling the world,” he said of his career as a professional runner. “It has been even better since I was married a year ago.”

The professional circuit is mostly in Europe and can get lonely. His wife Tamar, who is in nursing school in Los Angeles, often travels withe him.

“We get to see the world,” he said.

Ryan appreciates that he competes in one of the archetypal running events in Olympic track and field.

“The 1,500, the 100 and the marathon are classic,” he said. “They are the big attention drawers. I would love to be part of that legacy. But to be part of that legacy, I have got to make the U.S. team.”

Whatever happens, Ryan plans a return to the Palouse after the Olympic trials either to prepare for Paris or for the rest of the track season. He will revisit some of the venues that made him as a runner.

“There is a road in Troy,” he said. “If you turn left before Troy, there is a gradual, hilly road with miles of soft surface. It connects to Moscow Mountain. It is a great road for long, endurance runs.”

For speed work, he looks to WSU’s Mooberry track.

“(It’s) not really fast,” he said. “It’s windy. But if you can race well there, every other track seems faster.”

Before that, there are the trials in Eugene. Ryan will be buoyed by a large family contingent. His parents headed to Eugene on Thursday. They’ll be joined by his older sisters and their kids.

Ryan acknowledges he’s a bit of a long shot, but he’s focused on coming up big.

“I want to be realistic, but I always want to dream,” he said.