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The Day in Sports | COUNTDOWN TO 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: MAY 6, 1954

Sub-Four-Minute Mile Done by Unlikely Runner

May 06, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just as in the cases of the seven-foot high jump, 60-foot shotput, 200-foot discus throw and 27-foot long jump, a track and field "barrier" can be broken only once.

Milers had aspired for 20 years to be the first under four minutes. Two Swedes, Gunder Haegg and Arne Andersson, broke 4:02 shortly after World War II, but four minutes remained a barrier.

In 1954, track people worldwide believed the first sub-four-minute mile was close at hand. American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy were thought to be the top contenders. But British medical school student Roger Bannister, a fourth-place finisher at 1,500 meters at the 1952 Olympics, quietly launched a crash training program.

He and teammates Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher picked an event for a major effort at breaking four minutes: A relatively obscure dual meet between Oxford University and a British Amateur Athletic Assn. team, of which Bannister was a member. It was 45 years ago today.

Using Chataway and Brasher as pacers, Bannister stayed on Brasher's heels for the first two laps, covering the half-mile in 1:58.2. Chataway took over to start the third lap, pulling Bannister to 3:00.5 at the three-quarter mark.

Then, with the tiny crowd of about 1,000 urging him on, Bannister sprinted down the stretch, hit the tape in 3:59.4, and collapsed.

Footnote: Dr. Roger Bannister turned 70 in March.

Also on this date: In 1953, Bobo Holloman of the St. Louis Browns became the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first start. It would be the only complete game of his career, which consisted of 22 appearances that season. . . . In 1978, Steve Cauthen went to the whip and drove Affirmed to a 1 1/2-length win over Alydar at the Kentucky Derby. . . . In 1915, Boston's Babe Ruth, 20, hit his first major league home run. . . . In 1998, Chicago's Kerry Wood, 20, tied Roger Clemens' strikeout record for a nine-inning game by fanning 20 in a 2-0, one-hit win over Houston. . . . In 1982, Seattle's Gaylord Perry, 43, won his 300th game. . . . In 1961, Carry Back caught Crozier in the stretch to win the Kentucky Derby. . . . In 1933, Cornelius Johnson of Los Angeles High School, who would jump 6-8 to win the high jump gold medal at the 1936 Olympics, cleared 6-5 3/4 to win the Los Angeles city high school meet.

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