Ken Swenson is still running.
The former Kansas State great from Clay Center doesn’t compete anymore, but nearly four decades after representing the United States in the Olympic Games, Swenson still hits the pavement near his home in Londonderry, N.H.
“I still try to get out and get in 30 to 45 minutes a day,” said the 61-year-old Swenson, who is semi-retired after working for Converse and FILA. “It’s just nice to get out and get some fresh air.”
Already a member of the Drake Relays Hall of Fame and the Kansas State University Sports Hall of Fame, Swenson now has one more honor added to what has been a storybook career.
“Well, it kind of caps a long career,” said Swenson, who was a 1972 Olympian in the 880-yard run and a former American record holder with a time of 1:44.8. “It goes beyond expectations, beyond what you ever dreamed could happen. It’s certainly an honor.”
A three-time Big Eight champion in the 880, Swenson anchored four K-State relay teams to world records, two NCAA championships, and one American record.
Not bad when you consider Swenson was nearly overlooked coming out of high school. He was recruited by just two schools – Kansas State and Fort Hays State. Swenson opted for Kansas State because, like most middle-distance runners during that era, he wanted to line up against Jim Ryun of Kansas and see how he measured up.
“I think we were about 50-50,” Swenson said of the rivalry with Ryun. “The fact that Ryun was at Kansas, and I knew some of the other athletes that were either at Kansas or Missouri, I just figured if I was going to compete and run against the best, then I needed to be in a conference where I was going to get that exposure.”
And not being highly recruited coming out of Clay Center Community High School was certainly a motivation to prove people wrong.
“Yes, it certainly was,” Swenson said. “Those were some great times in track and field in Kansas.”
In 1966, Swenson was undefeated in the 880-yard run both indoors and outdoors as a senior in high school. In 1970, he ranked first at 800 meters among U.S. runners by Track and Field News and 1971 and 1972 he was ranked third.
Swenson was part of one of the greatest 800-meter races of all-time during the 1972 Olympic Trials when he edged Ryun at the tape to qualify for the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.
“It was a great experience,” Swenson said of the Olympics. “Running took me places I could have only dreamed of.”
While running at Kansas State from 1966-70, Swenson was a three-time 880-yard champion in the Big Eight Conference. He was a four-time All-American, anchored a pair of NCAA champion relay teams and was the 1970 NCAA Outdoor champion at the half-mile.
“The Relays circuit (Drake, Kansas, Texas) were really big back in those days and certainly gave us a lot of national exposure,” Swenson said. “You think back on all those experiences and you are certainly glad of those opportunities. But eventually, it’s time to move on.”
Swenson still holds the Clay Center Community High School record of 1:55.8. While at K-State in 1970, he had the fourth-fastest 880 time in history with his 1:44.8 clocking.