Australian John Landy, the second man to break the four-minute barrier in the mile, has died at age 91, according to Australia’s track and field federation.
Australian media reported that Landy had a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Landy ran a mile in 3:57.9 on June 21, 1954, just 46 days after British rival Roger Bannister became the first man to break four minutes. Landy’s time was faster, and he held the world record for three years.
“The four-minute mile was an enormous sort of goal to a lot of people, but in my mind it was unlikely that I would run it or anyone would run it,” Landy said in 2004, according to World Athletics. “I was much more interested in running the fastest time.”
Bannister, who ran in the same 1500m heat as Landy in the 1952 Olympics, was startled by those times as he trained to break four minutes.
“Landy made no secret of the fact that the four-minute mile was his goal,” Bannister wrote in “The First Four Minutes.” “The race for the four-minute mile had really begun.”
After both men broke four minutes, they raced each other in August 1954 in Vancouver at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games (later shortened to the Commonwealth Games). The clash was dubbed “The Miracle Mile.” Bannister won in the first mile race where two men broke four minutes. Landy later won a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympic 1500m and served as Governor of Victoria from 2001-06.
Bannister died in 2018, seven years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
I know. I was stunned, too. Eliud Kipchoge did what? He ran the Berlin marathon in 2 hours 1 min 39 seconds? How is that even possible?
I mean in an athletics world where records tend to be broken by hundredths of a second, if at all – and occasionally a second or two for the longer distances – the Kenyan took 1 minute 18 seconds off the old mark.
The feat, of course, begs the question. Might it be possible, after all, for a human to run the marathon in under two hours? If so, the superbly configured Kipchoge – he appears to be mostly legs, topped by a massive set of heart and lungs, and an always grinning countenance – is humanity’s best hope to get there. If he can it would be a combination of the four-minute mile meets the moon landing – an iconic “impossible” record broken, if everything falls into place.
For it was Kipchoge who, in a promo for Nike last year, got close to the barrier in artificial conditions which included having runners subbing in and out of the race to pace him on a flat oval track and people on mopeds passing on high energy drinks. On that occasion, he did it in just 25 seconds over two hours.
“It is not rocket science to break this barrier,” he said at the time. “You simply have to believe in it. And you need a great team that believes in it and in you, the perfect shoes, and to be stronger than any runner before. Then everything is possible.”
(I know, I suspect that line owes more to the Nike marketing department than him, but can’t resist including it anyway, because of the rocket science/ moon landing angle and, more importantly, because it will give the vicious critics of Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign the absolute irrits – but that’s just a bonus!)
But could he get below two hours in a normal marathon? Dr Michael Joyner of Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic wrote a paper 27 years ago suggesting that it was theoretically possible for a man to run the marathon in one hour 58 minutes and so has taken huge interest in Kipchoge’s latest feat.
“[Breaking the two-hour barrier] is now a significant step closer,” Dr Joyner told The Guardian on Monday. “We might see something like a Tiger Woods effect – when he arrived on the golfing scene he was a quantum leap forward, yet eventually there was a catch-up.”
Exactly. For what it’s worth, this is the angle that particularly interests me.
See, about 64 years ago, our own John Landy was in Finland’s former capital of Turku, preparing for a race when a local asked him had he heard the news? “No. What news?” John replied. “Roger Bannister has broken the four-minute mile. He’s done three minutes 59.4 seconds.”
Landy was stunned. “I was amazed, really,” he told me when I interviewed him a couple of decades ago. “I just couldn’t quite believe that Bannister had managed to lop as much as two seconds off the record in just the one race … Back then the four-minute mile was almost like a barrier, a limit, which we thought exceedingly difficult to break. If the record of four minutes, one second was going to be lowered, we thought it would only go down by a 10th of a second or so at a time.”
But Bannister’s feat changed everything. “A lot of people seem to think I must have been devastated that Bannister had broken the four-minute barrier before me, but I wasn’t. I was just astonished that he’d lopped so much off the previous record, and I guess … because I thought I was just as good a runner as he was … it gave me a bit of a hurry-up to run a time like that myself, it made me think I really had better pull something out of the hat.”
At his next race, therefore, which was in Turku just a few weeks later, Landy ran like the wind, and when he crossed the tape, lots of excited Finnish officials and athletes were crowding around him, yelling, laughing, clapping him on the back. They kept saying something: Ricodda? Ricoad? Ricod?Record? Record. The world record to be precise. And the new … heavyweight champeen of the mile distance race … in a time of three minutes 57.9 seconds … John … LANDY. You get the drift.
Having thought only a few weeks earlier that the four-minute mile could only be approached a tenth of a second at a time, Landy had not only smashed the barrier himself but also taken nearly two seconds off Bannister’s time. He’d always been capable of it – it was just that the Bannister feat had liberated his mind, as to the possibilities. And it liberated other runners, too, with the four-minute mile soon being regularly broken by other runners who’d long thought it impossible.
Will we see the same with Kipchoge, and his fellow runners? The Kenyan has now demonstrated that it is possible to get at least close to that barrier. As he is 33 years old, our own Robert de Castella who himself held the record three decades ago at 2 hours, 8 minutes and 18 seconds says he’ll have to get the job done in the next couple of years. But surely, if not Kipchoge himself, then one of the next generation of runners will crack it …
On the day that it happens, it will surely be bitter-sweet. After all, with Everest now conquerable to even moderate mountaineers, and with the four-minute mile a mere good training run for the best athletes, the two-hour marathon is one of the last mythical sporting feats left standing. If it does go, what is left?
All I can think of is that one day, far in the future, the NRL might be able to get through Mad Monday without atrocities breaking out and … And you’re right. I take it back. That really is impossible.