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The First 4-Minute Mile, 60 Years Ago

The First 4-Minute Mile, 60 Years Ago


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Roger Bannister wavered like the notoriously fickle English weather with every hard gust that blew across Oxford’s Iffley Road track on the evening of May 6, 1954. From the moment he had left his London flat that morning, the 25-year-old medical student had obsessed about the wind. With one eye on the changing skies and the other on history, Bannister boarded a train to Oxford after completing his rounds at St. Mary’s Hospital. Showers and sun bathed the rattling train as it carried Britain’s top middle-distance runner to his first track meet of the season and a chance at redemption.

The lanky Bannister had been favored to win the 1,500-meter race at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Although the amateur broke an Olympic record in the finals, so did the runners who captured gold, silver and bronze directly in front of him. Stung by the disappointment of his fourth-place finish, Bannister sought national atonement by doing something no man had ever done—running a mile in less than 4 minutes.

Bannister’s medical training restricted his track time to 45 minutes daily, but it gave him a knowledge of physiology that no other runner who flirted with breaking the 4-minute barrier had. By measuring his oxygen consumption, Bannister discovered that running consistent lap times required less oxygen than running variable times, so he focused on running steady quarter-mile splits. Through intense interval training of running 10 laps with 2-minute breaks in between, Bannister had dropped his average quarter-mile splits from 63 seconds to 59 seconds, sufficient to break the elusive barrier.

Bannister identified four essential requirements for running a sub-4-minute mile: “a good track, absence of wind, warm weather and even-paced running.” He knew he would be on solid footing on the Oxford track where he had raced many times as a university undergraduate, and he had two excellent pacesetters in training partners Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. The wind and weather, however, were variables outside his control.

Bannister arrived at the track late in the afternoon. Although back at his alma mater, he donned the uniform of the Amateur Athletic Association, which would be competing against Oxford University in the meet. Bannister grew dismayed as he looked at the wind-whipped English flag stretched out horizontally from a nearby church steeple. If the wind remained steady, it would slow him down by 1 second per lap, meaning he would in actuality have to run a 3:56 mile. Bannister continually waffled as to whether he should even attempt to race until his impatient pacemakers demanded an answer shortly before the race. Bannister looked up and saw the English flag slacken. Sensing a lull, he told them, “Right, we’ll go for it.”

At 6 p.m. Bannister toed the starting line with his fellow racers. His running spikes, which he had personally sharpened on a grindstone in a hospital laboratory earlier in the day, dug into the cinder track. As the starter raised his gun, the 1,500 spectators bundled in overcoats and scarves shuttered their mouths in silence and focused their eyes on the 6-foot-2-inch Brit. Bannister took a quick glance at the flag, which still fluttered gently.

The gun fired. Brasher, however, was called for a false start. Fretting that the wind could revive at any moment, Bannister prepared to begin again. The second start was clean. Brasher sprinted to the lead. Bannister glided effortlessly behind into his slipstream and noticed that his legs “seemed to meet no resistance at all, as if propelled by some unknown force.” Everything appeared to move in slow motion, including Brasher. “Faster!” Bannister commanded his pacemaker, who ignored the order and kept his steady gait as they completed the first lap of the quarter-mile oval in 57.5 seconds and reached the halfway point in 1:58.

Chataway now took to the lead, but the pace slowed. Bannister completed the third lap in 3:00.7 and needed to post a 59-second final lap to make history. With 300 yards to go, Bannister began his kick. “Impelled by a combination of fear and pride,” he breathed in the encouragement of the crowd. The soles of his running shoes kicked up the track’s ashes in their wake. As he approached the tape at the finishing line, it appeared to recede with every step he took. After several interminable seconds, he lunged at the thin wire and felt the pain explode inside his body. Bannister was confident he had broken the record, but only the stopwatches held the truth.

The track announcer added to the suspense with his long-winded declaration: “Result of event eight: one mile. First, R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a new track record, British record, European record, Commonwealth record and world record—Three minutes and …” The tidal wave of cheers drowned out the rest of Bannister’s boundary-busting time of 3:59.4.

By sixth-tenths of a second, Bannister had earned redemption, recalibrated expectations of what the human body is capable of achieving and delivered a patriotic salve for a country still recovering from the wounds of World War II. Bannister’s record would last just 46 days until Australian John Landy broke it in 3:57.9. Within months, Bannister retired from the track to pursue his true dream—becoming a neurologist. After receiving his medical degree, Bannister became director of two London hospitals and the creator of a doping test to detect anabolic steroids.

Queen Elizabeth II knighted Bannister in 1975, the same year in which injuries from an automobile accident left him unable to run again. Earlier this week, the 85-year-old former neurologist revealed to BBC Radio that for the last three years he himself has been suffering from a neurological disorder—Parkinson’s disease. He lives a short walk from the Iffley Road track that is now named in his honor. Since Bannister’s historic run 60 years ago, only 1,300 men have broken the 4-minute barrier. The current world record for the mile, held by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj since 1999, is 3:43.


List of American high school students who have run a four-minute mile

This is a list of American high school students who have run a four-minute mile since the feat was first accomplished in 1964.

The first person to run the mile (1,760 yards, or 1,609 metres) in under four minutes was Roger Bannister in 1954, in a time of 3:59.4. [1] This barrier would not be broken by a high school student until 1964, when Jim Ryun ran the distance in a time of 3:59.0 at the Compton Relays. [2] Ryun went on to set a national high school record of 3:55.3, which stood until 2001 when it was broken by Alan Webb. [3] Eleven high school students have run the mile in less than four minutes since 1964.

The youngest runner to ever run an official four-minute mile is Norwegian runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:58.07 at the Prefontaine Classic in May 2017, when he was 16 years and 250 days old. [4]


What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking

The sad news of the passing of Roger Bannister, the first human being to run a four-minute mile, is an opportunity to think about his legacy — not just as one of the great athletes of the past century, but as an innovator, a change agent, and an icon of success. As it turns out, when he broke through a previously impenetrable track-and-field barrier, he taught all of us what it takes to break new ground. Within a year Bannister running the first under-four-minute mile, other runners were doing the same, even though that barrier had seemed unbreakable for decades previously. We now see this same dynamic in other fields — progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some innovator changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for.

The sad news of the passing of Roger Bannister, the first human being to run a four-minute mile, got me thinking about his legacy — not just as one of the great athletes of the past century, but as an innovator, a change agent, and an icon of success. As it turns out, when he broke through a previously impenetrable track-and-field barrier, he taught all of us what it takes to break new ground.

Most people know the basic story of Roger Bannister, who, on May 6, 1954, busted through the four-minute barrier with a time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second. But it was not until I decided to write about him for my book Practically Radical, and read a remarkable account of his exploits by the British journalist and runner John Bryant, that I understood the story behind the story — and the lessons it holds for leaders who want to bust through barriers in their fields. Bryant reminds us that runners had been chasing the goal seriously since at least 1886, and that the challenge involved the most brilliant coaches and gifted athletes in North America, Europe, and Australia. “For years milers had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them,” he notes. “It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. And like an unconquerable mountain, the closer it was approached, the more daunting it seemed.”

This was truly the Holy Grail of athletic achievement. It’s fascinating to read about the pressure, the crowds, the media swirl as runners tried in vain to break the mark. Bryant also reminds us that Bannister was an outlier and iconoclast — a full-time student who had little use for coaches and devised his own system for preparing to race. The British press “constantly ran stories criticizing his ‘lone wolf’ approach,” Bryant notes, and urged him to adopt a more conventional regimen of training and coaching.

So the four-minute barrier stood for decades — and when it fell, the circumstances defied the confident predictions of the best minds in the sport. The experts believed they knew the precise conditions under which the mark would fall. It would have to be in perfect weather — 68 degrees and no wind. On a particular kind of track — hard, dry clay — and in front of a huge, boisterous crowd urging the runner on to his best-ever performance. But Bannister did it on a cold day, on a wet track, at a small meet in Oxford, England, before a crowd of just a few thousand people.

When Bannister broke the mark, even his most ardent rivals breathed a sigh of relief. At last, somebody did it! And once they saw it could be done, they did it too. Just 46 days Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, with a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.

Well, what goes for runners goes for leaders running organizations. In business, progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some innovator changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for. That’s Roger Bannister’s true legacy and lesson for all of us who see the role of leadership as doing things that haven’t been done before.

In fact, two Wharton School professors have analyzed the lessons for business of the four-minute mile. In their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook they devote an entire chapter to an assessment of Bannister’s feat, and emphasize the mindset behind it rather than the physical achievement. How is it, they wonder, that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? “Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model. The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.”

Most thinking about strategy, competition, and leadership emphasizes the intricacies of business models: revenues, costs, niches, leverage. But mental models are what allow organizations and their leaders to try not just to be the best at what everyone else can do, but to do things that only they can do — which, over time, shows others what it possible. They don’t accept the limitations, tradeoffs, and middle-of-the-road sensibilities that define conventional wisdom. In other words, great leaders don’t just out-perform their rivals. They transform the sense of what’s possible in their fields.

That’s what makes icons like Roger Bannister so unforgettable — and so important.


Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4 minute mile 60 years ago today

Sixty years ago on Tuesday, Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student completed what at the time* seemed to be impossible: A sub-four minute mile.

I heard the lap times as they went by,” he says. “The first was 58. The half-mile 1.58. But the three-quarters was three minutes and one second so I knew I had to produce a last lap of under 59.”

Did you worry at the end of that third lap? “Oh yes! And I was also unsure whether I should start my finish immediately or wait another 150 yards and overtake Chataway in the back straight. I decided I would stay a bit longer and then went. There was plenty of adrenaline then, I can assure you!”

(*While this is not impossible for professional runners anymore, it is still mostly impossible for most runners to do. For example, if you went jogging this morning you probably ran between an 8 and 12 minute mile.)

The current world record, according to the IAAF, belongs to Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj, who ran a mile in 3:43.13 in 1999.


4-Minute Mile @ 60

Roger Bannister never won an Olympic medal. He nevertheless remains one of the most important figures in track and field history.

Sixty years ago today, the speedy Englishman set a world record and more importantly broke the four-minute mark in the mile. After failing to medal at the 1952 Olympics, the Oxford grad contemplated quitting. Winds on May 6, 1954 compelled him to dropout of the race so that he could go for four minutes on another try. But he reconsidered and the rest is history.

On the cinder track, Bannister ran splits of 58 seconds, one minute, one minute and three seconds, and, on the last quarter mile, 58 seconds.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile,” the announcer proclaimed to an anxious crowd gathered at Oxford University’s track. “First, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which–subject to ratification–will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire, and World Record. The time was three…” The crowd, knowing what that number signified, drowned out the announcer’s next words.

Runners had erased nearly thirty seconds off the world-record time in the century preceding Bannister’s miracle mile. Within a few months, Australia’s John Landy eclipsed Bannister’s mark. Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj holds the current world record in the mile at 3:43, which he set in 1999.


67 Years Ago, Roger Bannister Became a Legend

First sub-4 minute mile a symbol of human achievement.

On May 6, 1954, the announcer at the Oxford University cinder track in England calmly gave the placings in the one mile race, and then started to announce the winning time, beginning with the word &ldquothree. &rdquo The small crowd erupted in delirious excitement, the rest of the announcement went unheard, and Roger Bannister became an instant legend as the first man to run the one mile faster than four minutes. His 3:59.4 that evening is often cited as one of the seminal moments in the world of sports. It has become a symbol of human achievement on the same level as the conquest of Mount Everest the previous year (May 29, 1953).

It took three men to make that historic record. Bannister and Chris Chataway, formerly Oxford students, and Chris Brasher, formerly of Cambridge University, were representing the English Amateur Athletic Association in the annual meet against Oxford, and chose that obscure opportunity for a planned attack on the elusive four-minute &ldquobarrier.&rdquo

There was urgency. The world had talked of sub-four since the heady days when the &ldquoMile of the Century&rdquo races in the 1930s enraptured huge crowds, as Americans Glenn Cunningham and Bill Bonthron, New Zealander Jack Lovelock, and England&rsquos Sydney Wooderson progressively cut the mile and 1500 meter records to 4:06.4 and 3:47.8, respectively. During the war years, Swedes Arne Andersson and Gundar Haegg kept the sub-four passion alive, leaving the mile record at 4:01.4 by Haegg.

Since 1945, that time had never been threatened. Four minutes was regarded as &ldquothe impossible barrier,&rdquo beyond human reach. But suddenly, in December 1952, the little-known John Landy reignited the flame by running 4:02.1 in the early Australian summer. The next month, Landy stayed under sub-4 pace until the final bend, ending that one on 4:02.8 and leaving the Aussie crowd beating the air in disappointment.

In the northern spring of 1953, the assault began in earnest. Bannister, having missed an Olympic medal in 1952, ran 4:03.6, glimpsed his destiny. Kansas University&rsquos Wes Santee seized the initiative with 4:02.4, Bannister hit back with 4:02.0, and the now-forgotten Sune Karlsson brought Sweden back into the race with a 4:04.4.

The barrier stood. And it survived through another Australian summer, as Landy tried again and again from December 1953 to April 1954. He got down to 4:02.0. He had to do it on grass tracks and in hot, windy conditions. In his last attempt in Australia, he trod on a football stud and ran most of the race with its nails in the sole of his foot. That day, he ran 4:02.6. In the American indoor season, Santee had done exactly that as a relay leg.

That same April, Santee had to run three events for Kansas against University of California at Berkeley. He ran the 880 in 1:51.5, the mile in 4:05.5, and a 440-yard relay leg in 48.0. If Santee had raced only the mile that day, would we have celebrated this 67 th anniversary on April 10?

But it was on May 6, 1954 that the place in history was seized by Bannister. The 25-year-old medical student was a man of detail who had sharpened his spikes on a grindstone that morning in preparation for the coarse cinders of the track a man of planning, paced for the first two laps by Brasher and for the third lap by Chataway and a man of suppressed passion, who released his surging sprint at exactly the right moment on the last lap to carry him through the once-impregnable barrier and into immortality.


Stories You Should Know: The History of the 4-Minute Mile Run

Paavo Nurmi, Jack Lovelock, Glenn Cunningham, Gunder Hagg, Arne Andersson, John Landy, Peter Snell, Michel Jazy, Jim Ryun, Filbert Bayi, Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Never heard of them. At one time they were the most famous athletes in the world. The were the LeBron James, the Clayton Kershaws, the Leonel Messi and the Usain Bolts.

What were they famous for? They all held a record in what Sports Illustrated called “The Most Treasured Mark in All of Sports”. What record could hold such stature in the eyes of all athletes and all sports. It was the record for the Mile Run. When Jim Ryun had earned this accolade in 1966 he had taken the record from Michel Jazy by more than 2 seconds.

Hicham El Guerrouj holds the World Record in the Mile.

Today, does the average sport’s fan have any idea who holds that record? I didn’t…I had to look it up (Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in Rome on July 7, 1999, 3:43.13). With the recent passing of Roger Bannister, the question about what happened to the Mile Run seems pertinent.

The first generally accepted record for the Mile was set in London in 1855 by the United Kingdom’s Charles Westhall. The time was 4 minutes 28 seconds. Britain’s Walter George was the first celebrity Miler in the 1880s. His record 4:12 and ¾ set in London on August 23, 1886 stood until 1915 when broken by American Norman Taber. Taber held the record until 1923 when the greatest distance runner of all time, Paavo Nurmi, added the Mile World Record to his list of 22 World Records he would hold in distances between 1500 meters and 20 kilometers.

Paavo Nurmi or the “Flying Finn”, one of the greatest runners of all time. He would hold the Mile Record for 8 years along with 22 other world records.

The “Flying Finn’s” time of 4:10.24 set in Stockholm in 1923 would hold for over eight years. The Mile Run became a major sport’s story in the 1930s when American Glenn Cunningham and New Zealand’s John Lovelock began a rivalry that entranced the world. It was during this time that the idea of a 4 Minute Mile first came into prominence. After trading the world record the competition ended with Cunningham holding the record at 4:06.8. Cunningham was especially vocal in his view that the 4 Minute Mile was within reach.

Glenn Cunningham is in number 746 and John Lovelock of New Zealand is 467.

Beginning in the 1940s the Swede’s Gunder Hagg and Arne Andersson would swap the record over a three-year period, with Hagg lowering the record to 4:01.4 in 1945. Due to the Second World War the Haag record was not seriously challenged until 1952 when the top runners were putting up times in the 4:02 range. This set up an intense competition to see who could be the first to break the 4-minute barrier.

Gunder Hagg of Sweden would hold the Mile Record through World War II.

The two leading contenders were Australian John Landy and Roger Bannister of the United Kingdom. The Roger Bannister record breaking race has been well documented, but we will briefly cover it here.

Bannister and Landy were in a race to break the fabled 4-minute mile.

Bannister made his first serious attempt at a 4-Minute Mile in Surrey in June of 1953. He was on pace for the record, but faded late for an individual best time of 4:02. John Landy then made three pointed attempts at the record. Bannister assumed Landy would beat him to the record on every attempt, but Landy failed all three times, finishing in 4:02.4 in January 1954, then 4:02.6 a month later. He would post the same time in his last attempt in April. Roger knew Landy planned another attempt in June, so he targeted a dual meet between British AAA and Oxford University on May 6 th for his attempt. With track standouts Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher pacing him on every lap Bannister posted a time of 3:59.4. The 4-Minute mark had been bested. (As a side note 1924 Olympic Hero Harold Abrahams was one of the broadcasters for the BBC covering the event. You can read about his story here.)

Roger Bannister breaks the 4-minute mile barrier for the first time.

Bannister did not hold the record long, 46 days later Landy ran 3:58 in Turko, Finland to become the new record holder. Roger Bannister would only break the 4-Minute mark one other time, that was in Vancuver, B.C. in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, when he defeated Landy in a head to head race known as “The Miracle Mile” with both men breaking the 4-Minute mark. Bannister would end his running career at the end of 1954 and use the rest of his life in the pursuit of medical advances. He was named by Sports Illustrated as their first “Sportsman of the Year” in January 1955. He was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. He is probably the most famous miler ever. The irony of all this is he only held the mile record for 46 days, the shortest reign of that record since the record have been kept.

The World Record in the mile remained a hallowed achievement through the early 80s. When Jim Ryun set the record in 1966 it warranted a SI Cover Story, as did Filbert Bayi’s lowering of it 9 years later. Britain’s Sebastian Coe was the last record holder to warrant such coverage. The race is now seldom run, with the best middle-distance runners concentrating on the 1500 meters. It does not sound as good to say “The fastest man in the 1500”. In other words, here at A Sip of Sports we blame the blasted metric system for the loss of glamour for the mile.


The First 4-Minute Mile, 60 Years Ago - HISTORY

One of the greatest feats ever achieved by a British athlete almost never took place.

By Dominic Midgley, Daily Express

It was the behavior of a Cross of St. George flag flying on the steeple of St. John's Church near the Iffley Road track in Oxford on Thursday, May 6, 1954 that persuaded the 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister to change his mind.

At 5:30pm on the appointed day it was blowing horizontal in a stiff wind but when Bannister came out of his dressing room 25 minutes later to see if conditions had improved he could see from a change in its flutter that the wind had dropped a little.

A modern-day athlete attempting to break a world record would do so only after weeks of training at altitude fuelled by a diet carefully prepared by a sports scientist, wearing running shoes fitted with lightweight ceramic spikes and on an all-weather synthetic track that married traction and shock absorption.

This being the amateur era, Bannister had spent the previous three weeks sitting his medical exams and on the morning of the attempt only took a train to Oxford after completing his rounds at St Mary's Paddington.

After joining friends for a ham salad lunch he changed into leather running shoes with spikes he sharpened himself on a grindstone, and prepared to make his record-breaking bid on a crunchy, uneven, cinder track.

At 6:00pm precisely he lined with his pacemakers Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher in front of an estimated 3,000 spectators. The Mile race was on!


Stronger and faster or better prepared?

Take those running numbers.

When Bannister clocked his sub-four-minute mile, he was a medical student who was training in his spare time, as David Epstein, author of "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance," points out in a TED Talk. College kids now train for hours every day with full-time coaches to run the same distance.

When Jim Ryun set a world record mile time of 3:51.1 in 1967, he was still running on an energy-absorbing track that Joyner says is generally 1-3% "slower" than the tracks used today. Shaving that extra percentage off his time could put him right there with El Guerrouj. A similar thing happens with you compare Jesse Owens' 1936 world record in the 100 meter sprint to Usain Bolt's record today, says Epstein.

Similar changes apply across sports. In swimming, the introduction of poolside gutters that allowed water to run off the sides of a pool created a smoother surface that was much faster for swimmers. Track cyclists continued to break Eddy Merckx's 1972 "distance traveled in one hour" record until a 1997 rule change required people to break that record using similar bike and helmet technology. That 1972 record has been beaten again since then, but not by much.

New techniques have had the same effects. In swimming, the adoption of the flip turn in 1956 drastically improved race times. For high jumpers, the Fosbury Flop (and having deep mats to land on) allowed them to clear new heights.

Plus, of course, athletes train now with special coaches who can analyze their biomechanics and techniques. They use nutrition experts to figure out the optimal diet for them. As Epstein pointed out in his TED Talk, the guy who won the marathon race in the 1904 Olympics ran it in three and half hours. The 2012 winner took two hours and eight minutes. But the 1904 winner drank brandy and rat poison to fuel his run, thinking that it would help him get through.


American cracked 4-minute mile at Pacific in 1957

Don Bowden remembers very well the day a decade ago when he took the striking silver trophy to have it appraised by an antiques dealer after his insurance agent suggested he buy coverage for it.

Don Bowden remembers very well the day a decade ago when he took the striking silver trophy to have it appraised by an antiques dealer after his insurance agent suggested he buy coverage for it.

"That's a beautiful trophy," the antiquarian told Bowden. "But it isn't worth too much because it's got some guy's name on it."

In fact, "Don Bowden" was the name on the trophy. It has belonged to him since shortly after the moment 50 years ago today that Bowden - a middle distance runner at Cal - crossed the finish line at Pacific's long-gone Baxter Stadium in 3 minutes, 58.7 seconds, easily winning the mile race at the Pacific Association-Amateur Athletic Union meet.

In so doing, Bowden became the first American to break the four-minute barrier, a little more than three years after Britain's Roger Bannister became the first person to accomplish the feat. But while Bannister's name has become a part of sporting lore, Bowden's name often draws the response he heard years ago from the antiques dealer.

"That really deflated my ego," Bowden, a 70-year-old Saratoga resident, joked this week while discussing his run-in with anonymity.

Then again, how many people have a race named after them? Though he no longer runs, Bowden will be on hand Sunday morning at Pacific for the Don Bowden Mile, commemorating his half-century-old achievement.

Dan Horan, a long-time Bowden fan who now is the assistant track coach at Chavez High, hosted the Bowden Mile at Delta College from 2001-03 and said he is pleased the event has been reincarnated.

"You need to know the history of sports," said Horan, 58. "And Don is a major part of that history, especially for distance runners."

But if you ask most people to identify the first American to run the mile in under four minutes, it's likely they will give you the wrong answer.

Take, for instance, 54-year-old Edison sprint coach Sonny Larkins, a lifelong Stockton resident with a lengthy track-and-field resume.

"Was it, um, um, I can see his face but I can't think of his name," Larkins said when asked for his answer. "It wasn't Dave Wottle. Was it Billy, Billy, Billy (Mills) . the Indian guy? No. Jim Ryun?"

Tony Vice, the 37-year-old owner of Stockton's Fleet Feet running shop, acknowledged that he knew nothing of Bowden until Horan brought the slice of history to his attention roughly a year ago.

"We need to rekindle the history that has taken place in Stockton," said Vice, whose store is putting on Sunday's event. "This is a major, major achievement."

What is behind the pervasive societal amnesia regarding Bowden's mile? According to Jeff Fellenzer, who teaches "Sports Business and Media in Today's Society" at USC, Bowden is largely a victim of timing.

"Many more people would know about the accomplishment (if it happened today)," Fellenzer said. "And they would know about it very quickly. At the time Don Bowden achieved his milestone, we had newspapers, limited televised sports and limited sports radio. Now, we're overflowing with media."

Incidentally, Fellenzer, 52, said he thought former Kansas miler Jim Ryun was the first American to crack four minutes.

It's not as if Bowden's achievement was ignored when it happened. It received several days' worth of coverage in the New York Times, Time magazine wrote about it, and Bowden and his sister were flown to New York to appear on the Today show.

It was on the same two-day trip that Bowden received his silver trophy. It had been donated 16 years earlier by Col. Hans Lagerloef - who in 1941 had been the president of the Swedish-American Athletic Club of Brooklyn - with the intention that it someday be given to the first runner from the United States to crack the four-minute mark.

But after the initial furor, memories of Bowden faded through the years as the popularity of track and field in this country waned, said David Carter, the executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute. Carter, 42, who also was unaware of Bowden's accomplishment, said it would take a track star with a "compelling personal story" to break through the current media's monolithic interest in football, basketball and baseball.

In fact, Bowden's story is quite compelling. Fifty years ago today, he took an economics final in Berkeley, jumped in his Chevy, drove to Stockton and made history.

He has made his living as an exporter of sports equipment. His first wife, Jacklyn, died 15 years ago. He will take another bride next month in Aptos. And he clearly doesn't bemoan his lack of fame.

"I certainly defer to Roger Bannister," Bowden said. "It was my goal to become the first American to crack four minutes. I've been very blessed with my life."


Breaking The 4-Minute-Mile Barrier

The mile is not much raced at the highest levels these metric times. It is not an Olympic event, yet it retains an iconic status. It is the only non-metric distance recognized for a world record by the sport's governing body, the IAAF, and it remains the benchmark against which runners measure their pace.

Sixty years ago, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister, a long-legged English medical student, became the first person to run himself into the record books by coverning the distance in under four minutes. It remains one of the most fabled moments of record-breaking in any sport.

Bannister recorded a time of 3:59.4 seconds racing for the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA), British track and field's governing body, in an annual meet against his alma mater, Oxford University. A sub-four-minute mile had proved so elusive for so long that some people argued it was physically impossible.


Two Swedish runners, Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson, swapped the world record six times between 1942 and 1945 but Hägg's 4:01.3 had then stood for nine years despite repeated assaults on it. Bannister's world record would last just 46 days before his great Australian rival Jon Landry ran 3:58.0. Later that year, the two men would race each other in "The Mile of the Century." Bannister edged the first race in which two men ran sub-fours.

The world record would be cut to 3:54.5 by the end of the decade. Today, more than one thousand milers have broken the four-minute mark. Many have done it hundreds of times New Zealander John Walker was the first.

Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco holds the current world record of 3:43.13 set in 1999, the longest period it has been in possession of one man since th IAAF started keeping records. El Guerrouj ran splits of 55.6 seconds, 56.0, 56.3, and 55.2. Bannister's splits of 57.5 seconds, 60.7, 62.3, and 58.9 would be considered wildly erratic today.

The famous black and white picture of Bannister about to break the tape at Oxford University's Iffley Road cinder track on an overcast Thursday late afternoon captures a different age in the sport. Not a sponsor's logo to be seen, for a start. And hand-held stopwatches seem primitve by the standards of today's digital timing accurate to 1/100th of a second. (The stopwatch used to time Bannister's run sold at a charity auction in 2011 for the equivalent of $160,000).

Track and field was still an amateur affair, then, but not an unprofessional one. Bannister might not have undergone the dietary, physiological and psychological preparation of modern elite runners — he travelled from London to Oxford by train on the moring of the race and lunched on ham salad with friends — but he studied running like the medical scientist he was. His graduate work was on the physiology of exercise, and he would have a distinguished career as a neurologist after retiring from running.

His training regime seems deceptively amateurish by modern standards, too — daily half-hour runs in a local park. But the training regime he developed based on the ideas of his coach, the Austrian Franz Stampfl, a pioneer proponent of interval training, was a low-mileage mix of daily hard intervals that emphasized specificity and quality over quantity.

Bannister also sought to gain every technological advantage. He ran in custom made shoes that, at 4oz, were a third lighter than regular racing spikes. The day before the race he honed the spikes themselves with a grindstone in one of the laboratories of St. Mary's Hospital Medical School where he was studying. This was to minimize the amount of cinder that stuck to them to reduce weight and drag. Enough to save that critical 0.6 of a second? Could well be.

He also used pacemakers in a carefully prepared race plan, as he had done a year earlier in a successful attempt on the U.K. mile record in May and an unsuccessful one on the world record in June. The "rabbits" were two of his Oxbridge friends and running partners, Chis Brasher and Chris Chataway.

Pacemaking is commonplace in middle-distance running today when attempts to break records are made at high-profile meets, but in the 1950s the British athletics establishment regarded the practice as tantamount to race-fixing. The AAAs refused to ratify Bannister's 4:02.0 in the June 1953 race as a new U.K. record because Brasher had jogged from the start and let Bannister lap him to stay fresh to pace Bannister through his final lap and a half.

The trio were well aware that Landy was closing in on breaking the four-minute barrier, as was an American, Wes Santee. The Oxford meet in May 1954 was their next opportunity to get there first, but the decision to go for it was taken only at the last minute, after blustery crosswinds dropped. The stiffness of the flag atop the tower of St. Stephen's church was their guide. But the wind was still gusting sufficiently for Bannister to be nearly struck when taking his track suit off before the start of the race by a pole that blew over.

As someone who had the honor of running on those same Iffley Road cinders some years later (and somewhat slower), I can attest the winds at Iffley Road can be wicked. They seem to come straight off the Russian steppes, pick up speed across the heathlands of northern Europe and whistle straight down the back straight. And forget the windbreak of trees tight on the first curve that you might have seen in the 2005 movie of the race. That was filmed in Toronto.

A synthetic surface replaced the cinders in 1989 at the Iffley Road track, which now fittingly bears Bannister's name. In 1948, when student president of the university's athletic club, Bannister had set in motion the replacement of the university's old bumpy three-laps-to-a-mile grass track with a six-lane 440-yard cinder track that opened in 1950 — and which four years later he would make an indelible part of sporting history.


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