The match-up between these two great distance runners at the 1954 Commonwealth Games was billed by the press as both the “Mile of the Century” and “Miracle Mile.” Earlier in the year, Dr. Roger Bannister clocked the world’s very first sub-four minute mile — and it was on a cinder track in Oxford, England! At the time, Bannister’s record seemed like an impossibly heroic feat, the human equivalent of a jet smashing through the sound barrier. But the world record for the mile was 4:01.4, which was set by the Swedish runner Gunder Haag in 1945. All Bannister really had to do was whittle away 1.5 seconds over four laps, or just under 4/10ths of a second every circuit. Bannister ran the mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. His two pacesetters had positioned him well for a 59-second last lap. By his own estimation, Bannister said afterwards that he had run 20,000 miles in eight years of ceaseless preparation for the day of reckoning.
Seven weeks later, the Australian John Landy broke Bannister’s record by going 3:58. Ironically, Bannister is also the man who held the world record in the mile for the shortest period of time. (The times have dropped ever since. Hicham El Guerrouj, of Morocco, holds the world record in 3:43.13.)
At the 1954 Commonwealth Games, both men broke 4 minutes. But who won? Watch and see…and the interview at the end with the winner who had been nursing a cold that day is priceless. –Bill Katovsky