Olympic Runner and Former U.S. Congressman Jim Ryun to Receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is considered to be one of the nation's highest civilian honor

Jim Ryun
Jim Ryun. Photo: Kent C. Horner/Getty Images

President Donald Trump will award Jim Ryun — an Olympic medalist who went on to served in the United States House of Representatives — with the nation's "highest civilian honor," according to the White House.

The White House announced on Tuesday that Ryun, 73, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week.

"This prestigious award is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, which may be awarded by the President to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," a news release read.

"Jim Ryun is one of the most accomplished American runners in history and a former United States Representative from Kansas."

Jim Ryun
Jim Ryun. MANDEL NGAN/getty images

Ryun first began his athletic career as a 17-year-old student at Wichita East High School, breaking the world record as the first high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes. That same year, he participated in the 1964 Olympic Games.

He went on to set two world records in 1966 and three more in the following year.

Ryun won a silver medal during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City and competed in the Games a third time in 1972 in Munich.

Following his running career, Ryun — a member of the Republican party — served as U.S. Congressman for Kansas from 1996 to 2007.

“I’m very humble that I was even considered,” Ryun told NBC Sports on Tuesday of being chosen for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “One of the things that’s really special about it, too, is that I’m getting it while I’m alive. Sometimes these are awarded after you’re dead.”

Past recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom include Michael Jordan, Maya Angelou, Sandra Day O’Connor, Walt Disney, Babe Ruth and Martin Luther King Jr.

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Earlier this year, Trump, 74, received backlash for pausing his State of the Union address to award the honor to controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh, who had just announced that he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the move in an Instagram Live video, saying it was “truly nauseating” and a made-for-TV “Oprah moment” that violated the tradition of the prestigious award.

“First of all, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an extraordinarily sacred award. We’re talking about putting someone on the same level as Rosa Parks, for example, in terms of their contributions to American progress,” Ocasio-Cortez, 30, said on Instagram. “Rush Limbaugh is a virulent racist.”

In response, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t being respectful of Limbaugh’s contributions to conservative media, telling Fox News, “For her to complain about a person with stage 4 cancer who for longer than she has been alive has actually saved AM radio in this country and has been responsible for creating an extraordinary voice for people who are conservative."

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