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.

14 Things You Didn’t Know About the Winter Olympics

It has been a busy week here as my documentary “Dixie” moves through the editing process. I have had time to take in the Winter Olympics, though. There is snow piled a foot and a half high outside my window as I write this, so you can probably guess that I enjoy winter sports. The winter games are a particular treat when they roll around every four years. In honor of the 2014 Olympics, here are 14 things you didn’t know about the Winter Olympics.

 I. The predecessor to the Winter Olympics were the Nordic Games, an international winter sporting event held eight times between 1901 and 1926 in Sweden and Norway.

 II. The Nordic Games were the brainchild of Victor Gustaf Balck, a Swedish military officer and the “Father of Swedish Sports.” He also had a fantastic handlebar mustache. I know a lot of you are into those these days.

 III. The man responsible for the first Winter Olympics was an Italian count, Eugenio Brunetta d’Usseaux. As Secretary of the International Olympic Committee, he pushed for a winter program to be added to the 1908 Olympics. He managed to get a winter sports week added to the games in 1916, but these were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. The count never lived to see the first Winter Olympics in 1924. He died in France in 1919.

 IV. The first Olympics in 1924, held in Chamonix, France were not Olympics at all. The games, called International Winter Sports Week, were held by the French Olympic Committee . They were retroactively named as the first Winter Olympics.

 V. The last medal of the 1924 Winter Olympics was awarded in 1974. American skier Anders Haugen was given a bronze medal when an error in the score of the original bronze medalist was discovered.

 VI. Equestrian skijoring was demonstrated in the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The event features a horse guided by a rider pulling a skier, sans poles, holding onto a tow rope.

 VII. Skijoring is not the only winter event sent to the land of defunct sports. Sled dog racing was demonstrated in the 1932 Lake Placid, New York games.

 VIII. The man responsible for bringing the 1932 Winter Olympics to Lake Placid was Godfrey Dewey. Dewey was the son of Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. Melvil also founded the Lake Placid Ski Club in 1895.

 IX. American Eddie Eagan is the only athlete to win a gold medal at both a Summer and Winter Olympics in different events. Eagan won a gold in boxing during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium and won gold again as a bobsledder during the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

X. The 1936 Winter Olympics, hosted by Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany, awarded the largest medals ever for any Olympics. Medals were 100 millimeters in diameter, 4 millimeters thick, and weighed 324 grams.

 XI. All three Axis Powers of World War II were awarded Winter Olympics during the war. The 1940 games were to be hosted by Japan, but were canceled after the Japanese invasion of China. In spring of 1939, the IOC gave the games to Germany, but Germany’s invasion of Poland put an end to those plans and the games were canceled. The 1944 games, scheduled for Italy, were canceled in 1941 due to World War II.

 XII. The 1976 games had trouble finding a host site, as well. The games were originally awarded to Denver, Colorado in 1970. Colorado voters, worried about the cost and environmental impact of the games, rejected a $5 million bond to fund the games. The games were then given to Whistler, British Columbia. Whistler, too, declined to host. The games were eventually held in Innsbruck, Austria.

 XIII. Taiwan is the only country to ever boycott a Winter Olympics. The island nation sat out the 1980 games when the IOC declared the country must compete as Chinese Taipei in international sporting events.

 XIV. Warm weather at this year’s Sochi games have been a topic of much discussion. These games are not the first to deal with unseasonably warm weather. The 1924 opening ceremonies in St. Moritz, Switerland were held in a blizzard. Later in the week, temperatures as high as 77 degrees caused cancellation of one event. In 1964, The Austrian army carried 20,000 ice bricks to Innsbruck for the luge and bobsled runs due to a lack of snow.

Image

Eddie Eagan.