FRONTENAC, Kan. — Who could have predicted that from this small coal mining town, a track star would emerge — one would leave his mark on his town and on the sport.
“Well, I think in the history of track and field, Archie San Romani is just a legend,” said Emporia State Cross Country coach Mark Stanbrough.
His running career began in a rather gruesome way. At eight years old, he was ran over by a truck and suffered a serious leg injury. Doctors initially thought his leg would have to be amputated. But one doctor wouldn’t let that happen and his leg eventually healed.
“Suffering a childhood injury and being able to overcome that and persevere through it and compete with the best in the world I think is really inspirational,” said Frontenac Historian Brady Hill.
San Romani rose to prominence during his time at emporia state university, formerly known as Kansas State Teachers College. There, he won the national collegiate mile in 1935, the 1500-meter run in 1936 and was a part of the distance medley relay team, setting a new world record that same year.
“I think he kind of set the stage for milling success in Kansas,” said Stanbrough.
His performance earned him an invitation to the U.S. Olympic trials in New York, although many considered it a longshot for him to actually make the team. He finished second to fellow Kansan Glenn Cunningham in the 1500 meter race, but it was enough to get the son of a coal miner from southeast Kansas to the world’s biggest stage.
San Romani gave it his all in the 1936 Olympics and ultimately finished fourth.
After the Olympics, San Romani got even better. In 1937, he went on to win a series of races that propelled him to the top of the sport.
“As a senior, San Romani beat all the guys that beat him in the Olympic games and really became the number one miler in the world and just a legendary figure that went on to set the world record in the 2000 meters and become the top miler in the world,” said Stanbrough.
He continued competing up until 1940 with the hopes of returning to the Olympics. But those hopes wouldn’t be realized. The games were cancelled that year due to world war II. San Romani decided to hang up his running shoes for good.
“To have a world-renowned athlete from your hometown from a small town like we are is really cool to know that you can go out and accomplishment anything and he certainly did that,” said Hill.
His career may have been brief, but his accomplishments will live on forever.