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The legacy of Olympian Archie San Romani lives on through Frontenac's athletes, community members

FRONTENAC, Kan. — Archie San Romani is one of the most successful athletes in Frontenac’s history. The track star established himself as one of the top milers in the world during the latter half of the 1930s. But over time, his remarkable story seemed to be somewhat forgotten.

It’s been almost 90 years since track legend Archie San Romani left his mark on the Frontenac High School track and field program.

“It’s a pretty like elite group of people that have been to the Olympics,” said member of the Frontenac High School track and field team Tallon Bonine. “So I mean, to have somebody like that from our town that’s been and be able to chase after that record is pretty cool.”

The school record San Romani set in the mile back in 1932 has yet to be broken.

“We’re proud of our record board here in the track program and we stress to our kids, you know, let’s try to get up there if we can get up there,” said Frontenac Assistant track and field coach John Palubo. “That’s why records are made.”

It’s something the program’s middle distance runners have been chasing ever since.

“It’s a good motivation to chase after an Olympic athlete,” said member of the Frontenac High School track and field team Brady Stanley. “To know that that’s where the bar is set and that’s where you have to go.”

While his record, pictures and plaques hang in the halls at Frontenac high school, outside of the track and field program, the legacy of San Romani — a national champion and Olympian faded over time.

Once his career ended and his family moved away from Frontenac, his story became less known, even in his hometown.

“He lived away you know, and then when his mom and dad passed away, there was really no family left around here anymore,” said John Kotzman, who lived near the San Romani family when he was young. “So, a lot of the up and coming young kids that went to Frontenac schools really never heard of him.”

He wanted to make sure San Romani’s contributions to the sport were know beyond just his hometown.
So he helped get San Romani inducted into the Kansas sports hall of fame in 2004.

“It’s a tribute to what he accomplished,” said Kotzman. “It’s good to keep those things. I think it’s very important for the heritage of the town.”

From a virtually unknown runner to all-time great miler, the journey of Archie San Romani embodies the spirit of the small coal mining town that shaped him. That spirit still exists in today’s athletes looking to break his longstanding record.

“It’s gonna happen eventually,” said Palumbo. “Someone’s gonna get it. We tell them why not you?”

San Romani is a perfect example of that. He spent his entire track career defying the odds. Whether his record ever gets broken and matter how much time passes, he’ll always be remembered as a champion, an Olympian and beloved son of Frontenac.

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From Frontenac to the world stage: A look back at Archie San Romani's rise to track stardom

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.