The Perfect Mile
4:00:00 - 4 laps. 60 seconds each.. The perfect mile. Simple in structure, but difficult to accomplish. Since the first milers managed to break 4:30 for a standard mile, there was talk of who would be the first to break four minutes. Was it even possible? In the 1940s, the Scandinavians dabbled with mile times sub 4:10, but the elusive four minute mark seemed almost out of reach to normal man. That is until the 1950s, which brought a new breed of track runners; runners dedicated to the idea that 4 minutes was indeed possible and perhaps several seconds under that. Wes Santee, John Landy and Roger Bannister became the three front runners in the race to the four minute barrier. All young, studious men pursuing college careers, they made an effort to push themselves to the breaking point to shave off a tenth of a second sometimes.
Their tests would come in the first half of the 1950s, as mile times hovered around 4:02. Tension mounting, and the media hounding the track stars, Roger Bannister decided he would attempt the unthinkable, a four minute mile. John Landy had been training hard in Australia and was making a move on the fast Finnish tracks in late May of 1954. Bannister decided, despite inclement weather, to attempt the record breaking run a day before Landy. With two pace makers to guide him through the first three laps, and 60 second splits ingrained in his head, Bannister thundered around the track with his long sweeping gait. One lap, then two passed - right on schedule. Perfect.
The third lap came and went and the gun went off as Bannister began to make his kick. It would take everything he had, every ounce of strength. He pushed harder, pumped his arms faster and fought off exhaustion. As his legs began to collapse against him he pushed through the line. There was a tense silence until the announcer began. "And the winner of the open mile.. in a time of.. 3:XX:XX" The crowds went wild. 3:59.4 was the official time, though it is certain not many heard it. Bannister had done it. He had broken the 4 minute mile.
Landy had been the harder worker indeed. Dedicating himself to one of the strictest, hardest regimens at the time, he successfully ran repeat miles in 4:02 for several weeks prior to Bannister's record run. But who would win in a show down between Landy and Bannister. Just days after Bannister's record setting run, Landy clocked a 3:58. Rumor had it that he could run a 3:55 if on a fast, flat track with less humidity. Santee, as one of the premier college runners, ached to have a showdown with these two fast milers. As the National Collegiate Champion for three years running, as he was ineligible for his final year, it was thought that the three could produce perhaps the best mile race ever run. So it was set. Only one problem.. as race day loomed.. Santee was called into service, Bannister was suffering from a chest cold, and the day before the race, Landy slashed his foot open on a broken lightbulb from a camera outside where he was staying. Who would win? Many were unsure as they approached the line, though none except a select few knew of both of the runners conditions. Many were still unsure going into the last 100 meters of the race who would win. And as they came to the line... ... ... .