Bannister and Landy: The Miracle Mile

Copyright Don Janus

Copyright Don Janus

Yesterday, May 6, marked the 60th anniversary of the first sub four-minute mile in recorded history. British runner Roger Bannister set the record in 1954, during a meet between the British Amateur Athletics Association and Oxford University at Iffley Road track in Oxford. Bannister set a British record in the 1500 meters at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He finished a disappointing fourth at those games and briefly considered retiring from running. It was then that he decided to become the first man to run a sub four-minute mile.

The four-minute mark loomed large in the minds of distance runners in the period following World War II. Up until that point, the world record had been broken fairly consistently. The disruption in training caused by the war, however, left Gunder Hägg of Sweden as the record holder from July 17, 1945 onward. Bannister was not the only man with a legitimate shot at breaking the four-minute barrier. Australian John Landy and American Wes Santee both recorded times of 4:02 in 1953. In fact, Landy broke Bannister’s record in June 1954 with a time of 3:57:9. This week’s monument, photographed by Don Janus, encapsulates the rivalry between Landy and Bannister. Specifically, it pays homage to the Aug. 7, 1954 race between the two men during the British Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was the first mile race where two runners finished in under four minutes. It was also the only time the two men raced against each other. Bannister, lagging behind, used a burst of speed during the last 90 yards to win the race. The sculpture depicts the moment Bannister, on the left, passed Landy as Landy looked over the wrong shoulder for his competitor.

The bronze statue was created by Jack Harman, based on a photograph by Vancouver Sun photographer Charlie Warner. The statue was created in 1967 and stood in front of Empire Stadium, site of the race, until the stadium was demolished in 1993. It now stands at the Pacific National Exhibition, an area in Vancouver that hosts a 17-day summer fair annually. Upon seeing the sculpture, Landy joked: “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.”

Bannister, 85, and Landy, 84, have both gone on to do much outside of the sports realm. After breaking the world record, Bannister had a distinguished 40-year career as a neurologist. He was knighted in 1975. Landy, a noted naturalist, has written two books on natural history and was a distinguished public speaker for many years. In 2001, he was appointed Governor of Victoria, Australia, serving until 2006.

The world record in the mile continued to fall three or four times a decade until July 7, 1999, when Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco set the mark at 3:43:13. After nearly 15 years, that mark has yet to be broken.

Grover Cleveland at Buffalo, New York City Hall

Copyright Brady Carlson

Copyright Brady Carlson

American history classes were once rife with presidential errata.  In my school days, presidential trivia was the bedrock of learning about the American experience.  Some of the first bits of knowledge generations of American school children learned concerned presidents.  These bits and pieces of presidential lives loom large in American history: Washington’s cherry tree, Lincoln’s fence rail, and Roosevelt’s big stick are all touchstones for students of American history.

In the course of human affairs, though, some presidents get lost in the shuffle.  One of the eras that seems to burst with forgettable presidents is the late 19th Century.  We at Monumental Photography refer to these men as The Muttonchop Presidents.  The Muttonchop Era began March 4, 1877 with the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes and ended March 4, 1897 with the inaugural of the clean-shaven William McKinley.  In between, the U.S. was led by Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Grover Cleveland (again).  Arthur was the only one to have true muttonchops, but all men represent a period when facial hair was the norm for the U.S. President.  The prior two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, were the first two presidents to wear beards.  They, however, are not include on the list of forgettable presidents–freeing millions of humans from bondage and winning the American Civil War tends to make a man stand out in a crowd.  The Muttonchop Presidents were remarkable men in their own right, however, even if they do get lost in a sea of Gilded Age grooming habits.

This week, we look at Grover Cleveland in front of City Hall in Buffalo, New York, courtesy of photographer Brady Carlson.  Cleveland holds the distinction of being the only U.S. President to be elected to two non-consecutive terms, which makes him both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.  Cleveland was elected president in 1884 and 1892.  In between those elections, he was defeated by Rutherford B. Hayes.  Opponents of the Electoral College take note: despite losing the electoral vote, Cleveland received 48.6 percent of all votes, while Harrison had just 47.8.  So, the winner was the loser–or the loser was the winner, depending on your point of view.  It was the third time in U.S. history that had happened.  It would not happen again until 2000, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore.

Cleveland was a shrewd politician and a conservative icon in the days before Fox News.  he was pro-business, fiscally conservative, and a champion of political reform.  He took on–and defeated–the boss politics and patronage systems running rampant both in his home state of New York and nationally as chief executive.  His crusade for reform as Mayor of Buffalo and, later, as Governor of New York was so popular that an entire wing of the Republican Party threw their support to Cleveland in the 1884 election.  This group was given one of the greatest nicknames in U.S. political history, the Mugwumps.

The statue pictured was one of two by sculptor Bryant Baker at the dedication of Buffalo’s new City Hall in 1932.  The other statue is of Buffalo native and forgettable 13th President Millard Fillmore.  Cleveland’s statue is a bronze statue on an engraved polished granite base.  On the rear of the base is inscribed: “I have tried so hard to do right.”

A guy named Grover with great facial hair whose followers were called Mugwumps–it sounds like the makings of a great alt-country act.  This guy should have much more cred with the hipsters.  Long live the Muttonchop Presidents!