Déjà Vu: Garry Bjorklund Looks Back on a 39-Year-Old Record

By Charlie Mahler

If the news of Rob Finnerty breaking his Minnesota high school record in the mile felt like déjà vu to Garry Bjorklund, it's understandable. Bjorklund, the Proctor High School star who went on to be a University of Minnesota all-American and a U.S. Olympian, thought he lost his record a long time ago.

"My freshman year at Minnesota," Bjorklund explained, "when I came home from the Big Ten meet, my roommate told me, "You won't believe it, Kim Baron from Proctor won the State and broke your mile record!"

Bjorklund believed the story, even though it was a hoax.

"He was pulling my chain," Bjorklund remembered. "Kim Baron did win the mile run - Proctor won it four years in a row."

If Bjorklund fell for the joke easily, it may have been because he didn't expect his record of 4:05.1 to last long, certainly not the 39 years it did.

"I guess I never really thought of it as a big deal," Bjorklund said. "After about four or five years when you start to look for someone to break it, and after ten years and longer, finally it gets to be a burden.."

"No record should last for 40 years," he continued. "You want kids to get better, you want them to be doing great things. You want them to have the sense of pride that they own this little piece of Minnesota history."

Whether for one year or 39 or more, Burnsville High School's Finnerty owns the piece of history now with his 4:01.08 clocking at the Midwest Distance Gala in Lisle, Illinois.

Bjorklund is happy for him.

Photo courtesy of Grandma's Marathon

"I'm glad it finally happened," Bjorklund, now a Colorado resident, said, "and, what a time, holy smokes! You can live anywhere in the world you want, but if you grew up in Minnesota, you're always looking for Minnesota kids to do great things. I'm really proud and happy for the kids today."

Though the state's high school runners have been aiming at Bjorklund's record for nearly 40 years, Bjorklund himself wasn't particularly focused on the mile going into the State Meet in 1969.

"To be honest, the mile wasn't on my mind as much as the mile relay," he revealed. "We'd been beaten by Denfeld just a couple weeks earlier. I was working at a sporting goods store [in Duluth] as a trophy engraver. The fellow that beat me, the anchor of that mile relay, his teammates bought him a trophy, and I had to engrave it. So, for the next two weeks, you know what I was thinking about."

Proctor tied for 5th in the 4 x 440 relay at State, ahead of Duluth Denfeld.

Before that, Bjorklund of course had won his third straight State title in the mile, running the 4:05.1 that would inspire Minnesota's school-boy milers for two generations. The mark still stands as the all-time State Meet record.

"I've been saying for years that I'm just waiting for this and that I hoped whoever does this goes on to have a great career in college," Bjorklund offered. "I had a great career in college and beyond and if these young men that are running now can have half the fun I did, go to half the places I went to, they'll have a great career."

Bjorklund's advice to Finnerty and the rest of Minnesota's recent distance running stars was straightforward:

"Stay healthy, listen to your coach - I had the greatest high school and college coaches in the world. The big key is to work hard, stay healthy, and be patient. The world is a lot different when you're 26 than when you're 18. That would be the most helpful advice that I can give."