Glenn Cunningham
Cunningham in 1934
Personal information
Full nameGlenn Vernice Cunningham
Born(1909-08-04)August 4, 1909
Atlanta, Kansas, U.S.[1]
DiedMarch 10, 1988(1988-03-10) (aged 78)
Menifee, Arkansas, U.S.
Height5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight154 lb (70 kg)
CountryUnited States United States
Event(s)800 m, 1500 m, mile
TeamUniversity of Kansas
Achievements and titles
Highest world ranking1st
Personal best(s)800 m – 1:49.7 (1936)
1500 m – 3:48.2 (1940)
Mile – 4:04.4 (1938)[2]
Medal record
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Silver medal – second place 1936 Berlin 1,500 m

Glenn Vernice Cunningham (August 4, 1909 – March 10, 1988) was an American middle-distance runner, and was considered the greatest American miler of all time. He received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1933.

Early life

Cunningham was born in Atlanta, Kansas and grew up in Elkhart, Kansas. When he was eight years old, his legs were very badly burned in an explosion caused by his brother accidentally putting gasoline instead of kerosene in the can at his school. His brother Floyd, 13, died in the fire. When the doctors recommended amputating Glenn's legs, he was so distressed his parents would not allow it. The doctors predicted he might never walk normally again. He had lost all the flesh on his knees and shins and all the toes on his left foot. Also, his transverse arch was practically destroyed. However, his great determination, coupled with hours upon hours of a new type of therapy, enabled him to gradually regain the ability to walk and to proceed to run.[3][4] It was in the early summer of 1919 when he first tried to walk again, roughly two years after the accident. He had a positive attitude as well as a strong religious faith. His favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 40:31: "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint."


Cunningham competing for the University of Kansas

Cunningham competed in the 1500 m event at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics and finished fourth and second, respectively.[1] While on the ship, traveling from the U.S. to Germany in 1936, he was voted "Most Popular Athlete" by his fellow Olympians.

Cunningham won the Sullivan medal in 1933 for his achievements in middle-distance running. In 1934, he set the world record for the mile run at 4:06.8, which stood for three years. He also set world records in the 800 m in 1936 and in the indoor mile in 1938.[2][5] Also in 1938, Cunningham set a personal best time in the mile run at 4:04.4 testing Dartmouth College's Alumni Gymnasium indoor track, engineered to allow faster times than most indoor facilities. This time was not accepted as a world record, however, because Dartmouth had provided Cunningham pacing runners, which was against the rules at the time.[6]

Cunningham's unachieved goal was a four-minute mile, a goal attempted and unmet by many other runners. Several theorists proclaimed it was impossible physiologically for humans. Some athletes tried running steady and fast-paced the whole time. Others tried to go steady for the first half then give it all they had. Glenn worried about the strength of his legs burned in his youth, so he started slow – running in the pack. He would be fresher in the second half – and would almost be sprinting the last 100 yards to the finish.

Cunningham has a park named after him in his hometown of Elkhart, Kansas.[7] The mile run at the Kansas Relays is named in his honor. In 1974 he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.[5][8] In 2012, Cunningham was posthumously inducted in to the National Distance Running Hall of Fame.


Cunningham earned a master's degree from the University of Iowa and a PhD from New York University. After retiring from competitions in 1940 he served as director of physical education at Cornell College in Iowa for four years. Later he opened the Glenn Cunningham Youth Ranch in Kansas, where he and his wife helped 10,000 needy and abused children.[1][5]


  1. ^ a b c Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Glenn Cunningham". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Glenn Cunningham". Archived from the original on September 27, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  3. ^ Mark D. Hersey. Cunningham Calls It A Career. Department of History. University of Kansas
  4. ^ "Interview with Glenn Cunningham". Archived from the original on March 18, 2019. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Glenn Cunningham. USA Track and Field Hall of Fame
  6. ^ Webster, Pete (November–December 2014). "A Record That Wasn't". Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Archived from the original on October 20, 2021. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  7. ^ "City of Elkhart Ks". Archived from the original on May 19, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  8. ^ Glenn Cunningham Archived September 18, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. USA Track and Field Hall of Fame
Records Preceded by Tommy Hampson Ben Eastman Men's 800 metres World Record Holder August 8, 1936 – July 11, 1937 Succeeded by Elroy Robinson Preceded by Jack Lovelock Men's Mile World Record Holder June 16, 1934 – August 28, 1937 Succeeded by Sydney Wooderson