Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quick: Name the Third Man to Run a Sub Four Minute Mile!

Let's see, Roger Bannister of Great Britain did it first on May 6th, 1954 with a time of 3:59.4, then John Landy of Australia quickly followed on June 21st, 1954 with a time of 3:57.9, then...

Wes Santee? No, he came close, but – unfortunately – the "Ashland Antelope" never did better than a 4:00.5, thanks to the myopia exhibited by the oligarchical power mongers of the AAU prior to the Steve Prefontaine-inspired Amateur Sports Act of 1978, an act that stripped the AAU of its vice-like grip on Track & Field in the United States. For all of the moaning and groaning we hear about the USATF and the way it governs the sport, it's certainly much better than the AAU ever was.

Ron Delaney? No, he was 7th.

Jim Bailey? No. Although he was the first man to break the four-minute barrier on American soil, Bailey, an Australian, was only the 6th man to break the barrier.

I know! Don Bowden! Nope. Although he was the first American to break the barrier, he was only the 12th man in history to do it.

If you said Laszlo Tabori, you are correct! Pat yourself on the back for being such a marvelous track historian.

Tabori, Chris Chataway and Brian Hewson became the 3rd, 4th and 5th men, respectively, to finish a mile in under four minutes. What's more, they all did it in the same race with their 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes at the British Games in London on May 28th, 1955.

Of course, theirs wasn't the first race in which multiple runners broke four minutes in the same race. That race was the well-documented "Mile of the Century," in which Bannister and Landy raced one another in their long-anticipated matchup at the British Empire Games. This historic showdown occurred in Vancouver, B.C. on August 7th, 1954. Santee, much to his chagrin, announced that race at the NBC headquarters in New York. He would have dearly loved to run in that race because he always believed that he would have beat them both on that day. If you've never read about that historic race or these fascinating athletes, you can find out who won "Mile of the Century" by ordering a copy of Neal Bascomb's fabulous account titled The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It. Bascomb's scintillating account of the race makes it seem as if you were actually there. I highly recommend his book.

Here are the first 10 runners who broke the four-minute mile, in order:

What major psychological barrier will be broken next in Track & Field? It has to be the women's four-minute mile barrier. A look at the men's world-record progression reveals that the record for men just 39 years prior to Bannister's achievement was Norman Taber's 4:12.6. Taber's time was slower than Svetlana Masterkova's current world record of 4:12.56, which she set on August 14th, 1996. If the same time (39 years, 304 days) elapses between Masterkova's record and the first four-minute mile for women as it did between Taber's record and Bannister's barrier-shattering achievement, then we should expect to see the first woman break the four-minute mile barrier on or around June 4th, 2036. Mark your calendars. Oh, if you haven't already – and whether you agree with me or not – be sure and take the poll!

Finish Line Pundit Archives