World of Sport

On This Day: Bannister beats four-minute-mile rival Landy at Commonwealth Games

World of Sport

Roger Bannister beat rival John Landy in the greatest four-minute mile race of all time at the Vancouver Commonwealth Games on this day in 1954.

The epic showdown between the Briton and the Australian came three months after Bannister became the first man to cover the distance inside 360 seconds.

In June – 46 days after the 3:59.04 feat – Landy shaved one and a half seconds off the time to set a new world record of 3:57.09.

But as neither man had yet raced the other, their encounter at what was then the Empire and Commonwealth Games in Canada attracted frenzied anticipation.

A British Pathé newsreel showed Prince and 32,000 fans cheering on the only two athletes in the world to run a mile in less than four minutes.

Landy led for much of the race, but with 100 yards to go the Briton once again showed off his “famous Bannister burst” and overtook the Australian.

He won in 3:58.08, but Landy, 0.8 seconds behind, also managed to finish the race in under four minutes – at 3:59.06 - the first time in history that had happened.

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Both men believed the crucial moment of the race, which became known as the “Miracle Mile”, was when Landy looked to his left to check Bannister.

The Briton burst past on the Australian’s right side, leaving the second-placed man not realising he’d lost his lead until it was too late.

This moment was immortalised in a larger-than-life bronze sculpture by artist Jack Harman in 1967 and placed outside the Empire Stadium in Vancouver.

Landy later 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.”

The good sportsman, who is also famed for helping up a fallen competitor - and still winning - in the 1956 Australian championships, later became governor of Victoria.

Incredibly, Bannister, who was training to be a doctor at the time, won Commonwealth gold with only a fraction of Landy’s training.

The Oxford graduate also ran faster that his first mile, despite not having Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway to set the pace for him like they did before.

It had been nine years since Swede Gunder Hägg set a record time of 4:01.04 – and few people believed running the mile in under four minutes was even possible.

At the time, a writer in the Daily Telegraph described it “sport’s greatest goal… as elusive and seemingly unattainable as Everest”.

Yet by August 1954 Bannister and Landy had between had achieved this four times in the space of three months – triggering tremenous excitement about future records.

Bannister went on that season to win the so-called metric mile, the 1500m, at the European Championships, with a championship record in a time of 3:43.08.

He then retired from athletics to concentrate on his work as a junior doctor and to pursue a career in neurology.

Bannister, now 85, was asked on the 60th anniversary of his first four-minute mile what was his proudest achievement - and he replied: “Medicine without a doubt.

“I wouldn't claim to have made any great discoveries, but at any rate I satisfactorily inched forward in our knowledge of a particular aspect of medicine.

“I'm far more content with that than I am about any of the running I did earlier.”

Since 1954, better trained athletes have made massive gains in the Mile, the only non-metric distance recognised by the IAAF.

The current record of 3:43.13 was set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 1999.

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