In the spring and summer of 1954, two men raced with time. One achieved a mark thought unattainable. The other surpassed even that. Their individual triumphs and joint legacy have withstood the test of time. Briton Roger Bannister did it first, at Oxford. Then Australian John Landy did it – faster still – in Turku, Finland. They both repeated the feat in Vancouver on August 7, 1954.
Much has changed since then. The British Empire and Commonwealth Games have become the Commonwealth Games. Synthetic compounds have replaced cinder on running tracks. Information travels at the speed of light. Space is both outer and cyber.
As the 20th century passed the tape entering into the 21st, the premier foot race is the 100-metre sprint. Yet in the 1950s, the featured track event was the mile race with the improbable goal of completing the distance in less than four minutes.
In the rarefied circle of world class runners, time is fractured, measured in split seconds. Bannister ran into immortality by six-tenths of a second on May 6. Landy broke this new world record on June 21 by one and four-tenths seconds. The Miracle Mile would be their first head-to-head race since cracking the time barrier.
Featured later in Life as “The Greatest Mile Race in History,” The Miracle Mile and the ensuing ballyhoo (hype had not been created, yet) combined with television coverage of the race marked several broadcasting milestones. The largest North American audience of the time for a track and field event tuned in. And the 40 million were not disappointed. Nor were 20 million radio listeners.
From the crack of the starter’s pistol, eight runners jostled in the pack. Surging forward at the 330-yard mark, Landy took the lead. Running easily, Bannister cruised in third. At 660 yards, Landy had a 10-yard margin over Bannister, now in second.
Landy planned to outrun his shadow by setting a fast, early pace in hopes of tiring Bannister’s legs early and avoiding his legendary final kick. Losing ground, Landy was just a stride ahead at the three-quarter mark.
Coming out of the final turn, Landy glanced over his left shoulder to check on Bannister’s progress. As he did, his shadow passed him on the right with 90 yards to go. Having given his all, Landy watched his shadow speed by.
Bannister clocked in at 3:58.8. Landy crossed the line in 3:59.6. The margin of victory was five yards. It was the second time that each had run a sub-four minute mile, but it was the first time by two runners in the same race.
Bannister passes Landy: Bronze Statue in Vancouver
Enjoy footage of the actual race by following the link below: