Roger Bannister: Part 3 – Running the “Miracle Mile” with John Landy


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Blue plaque recording the first sub-4-minute mile run by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University's Iffley Road Track. (Photograph by Jonathan Bowen)
Blue plaque recording the first sub-4-minute mile run by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Track. (Photograph by Jonathan Bowen)

Forbes named the significant feat of breaking the four-minute barrier by Roger Banister as one of the greatest athletic achievements in the history of athletics.

On June 21, 1954, at an international meet in Turku, Finland, John Landy became the second man, after Roger Bannister, to achieve a sub-4-minute mile. He clocked a world record time of 3:57.9, ratified by the IAAF as 3:58.0 owing to the rounding rules then in effect. That record held for more than three years.

Though Roger Banister had already created history on May 6, 1954, some felt the flagrant pacing tainted this achievement. They felt that world records should be created through pure racing as John Landy did. They said that Banister, Brasher, and Chataway had acted within the letters of the amateur rules, but not within the spirit of those rules. The Australians argued that Landy’s 3:58 in Turku was the first legitimate sub-4. But Roger Banister did not pay any heed to his detractors.

The face of John Landy in second place in the Fifth Empire games (30 July 30 to August 7, 1954) in Vancouver, Canada (Source: thebounce.co.za)
The face of John Landy in second place in the Fifth Empire games (30 July 30 to August 7, 1954) in Vancouver, Canada (Source: thebounce.co.za)

Roger Banister was pitted against the Australian in the Fifth British Empire and Commonwealth Games held at the Empire Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, from July 30 – August 7, 1954.

It was at these games that the “Miracle Mile” took place between Roger Bannister and John Landy on August 7, 1954. This was the first time these two, the only sub-four-minute mile runners at that time appeared in the same race. John Landy was still holding the world record. It was also the first time two runners broke four minutes in the same race.

Landy led for most of the race, building a lead of 10 yards in the third lap. Roger showed the highly acclaimed Landy that he was still the boss by dashing on the final bend of the fourth lap and winning the event in 3:58.8 with Landy 0.8 seconds behind him. Both Bannister and Landy have pointed out that the crucial moment of the race was when Landy looked over his left shoulder to gauge Bannister’s position and Bannister burst past him on the right.

A sculpture of Roger Bannister and John Landy by Jack Harman placed outside of the Empire Stadium to commemorate the Miracle Mile. (Photo: Paul Joseph)
A sculpture of Roger Bannister and John Landy by Jack Harman placed outside of the Empire Stadium to commemorate the Miracle Mile. (Photo: Paul Joseph)

In 1967, inspired by a photograph by Vancouver Sun photographer Charlie Warner, Vancouver sculptor Jack Harman created a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of the two men. In this sculpture, Landy looks over his left shoulder to see his rival’s position and Bannister sprints past him on the right.

This sculpture stood for many years at the entrance to Empire Stadium. After the demolition of the stadium, the  sculpture was moved a short distance away to the Hastings and Renfrew entrance of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) fairgrounds. John Landy once quipped about this  sculpture:

“While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”

On August 29, 1954 Roger Bannister won the 1500 metres, the so-called metric mile, at the European Championships in Bern in a time of 3:43.8, a championship record.

After the Bern meet, Roger retired from athletics to concentrate on his work as a junior doctor and pursued a career in neurology.

St. Mary’s Hospital (London), Imperial College School of Medicine have named a lecture theatre after Roger Bannister. It houses the stopwatch used to time the race on display, stopped at 3:59.

Later, Roger Banister became the first Chairman of the Sports Council, now known as Sport England. In 1975, Sir Roger Banister was knighted for this service. Under his aegis, there was a rapid increase in central and local government funding of sports centres and other sports facilities.

Sir Roger Bannister at the prize presentation of the 2009 Teddy Hall relay race. (© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons)
Sir Roger Bannister at the prize presentation of the 2009 Teddy Hall relay race. (© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons)

Now at the age of 85 Roger Banister suffers from Parkinson’s disease. It was one of the diseases he specialised as a neurologist.

By the end of 1957, 16 other runners also broke the four-minute mile barrier.

The International Amateur Athletics Federation, now known as the International Association of Athletics Federations recognized the first world record in the mile for men (athletics) in 1913. Since 1976, the mile is the only non-metric distance recognized by the IAAF for record purposes. Up to June 21, 2009, the IAAF has ratified 32 world records in the event.

Time Athlete Nationality Date Venue
4:14.4 John Paul Jones  USA May 31, 1913 Allston, Mass.
4:12.6 Norman Taber  USA July 16, 1915 Allston, Mass.
4:10.4 Paavo Nurmi  Finland August 23, 1923 Stockholm
4:09.2 Jules Ladoumègue  France October 4, 1931 Paris
4:07.6 Jack Lovelock  NZ
July 15, 1933 Princeton, N.J.
4:06.8 Glenn Cunningham  USA June 16, 1934 Princeton, N.J.
4:06.4 Sydney Wooderson  UK August 28, 1937 Motspur Park
4:06.2 Gunder Hägg  Sweden July 1, 1942 Gothenburg
4:06.2 Arne Andersson  Sweden July 10, 1942 Stockholm
4:04.6 Gunder Hägg  Sweden September 4, 1942 Stockholm
4:02.6 Arne Andersson  Sweden July 1, 1943 Gothenburg
4:01.6 Arne Andersson  Sweden July 18, 1944 Malmö
4:01.4 Gunder Hägg  Sweden July 17, 1945 Malmö
3:59.4 Roger Bannister  UK May 6, 1954 Oxford
3:58.0 John Landy  Australia June 21, 1954 Turku
3:57.2 Derek Ibbotson  UK July 19, 1957 London
3:54.5 Herb Elliott  Australia August 6, 1958 Dublin
3:54.4 Peter Snell  NZ January 27, 1962 Wanganui
3:54.1 Peter Snell  NZ November 17, 1964 Auckland
3:53.6 Michel Jazy  France June 9, 1965 Rennes
3:51.3 Jim Ryun  USA July 17, 1966 Berkeley, Cal.
3:51.1 Jim Ryun  USA June 23, 1967 Bakersfield, Cal.
3:51.0 Filbert Bayi  Tanzania May 17, 1975 Kingston
3:49.4 John Walker  NZ August 12, 1975 Gothenburg
3:49.0 Sebastian Coe  UK July 17, 1979 Oslo
3:48.8 Steve Ovett  UK July 1, 1980 Oslo
3:48.53 Sebastian Coe  UK August 19, 1981 Zürich
3:48.40 Steve Ovett  UK August 26, 1981 Koblenz
3:47.33 Sebastian Coe  UK August 28, 1981 Brussels
3:46.32 Steve Cram  UK July  27, 1985 Oslo
3:44.39 Noureddine Morceli  Algeria September 5, 1993 Rieti
3:43.13 Hicham El Guerrouj  Morocco July 7, 1999 Rome

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Hicham El Guerrouj is the current men’s record holder with his time of 3:43.13. And, Svetlana Masterkova has the women’s record of 4:12.56.

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← Previous: Part 2 – Breaking the Four-minute Barrier

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