Monday, May 05, 2014

The Magic of the Mile

Henry Marsh at Eden Prairie
Photo by Jim Ferstle
As it was nearly six decades ago, the world's attention this week will be drawn to an athletic "barrier" that fell in 1954 in Oxford, England.  It's quite possible that the sport of track & field, Athletics to most of the rest of the world, was never more popular than on May 6 of that year when an English medical student made history by becoming the first man to publicly run under four minutes in the mile.

The feat captured the attention of the media all over the world and made the sport front page news everywhere.  London is celebrating the occasion by beginning it's own Road Mile festival.  In the Twin Cities, the Medtronic TC 1 Mile will be run on Nicollet  on May 8.  The lure of the mile is universal, so much so that it cropped up among Henry Marsh's stories that he told during his trip to the Twin Cities and talk at Eden Prairie High School.  Marsh is a four time Olympian, broke the US record for the steeplechase four times, and finished fourth in the Olympic steeplechase in 1984.

Marsh was not just a successful steepler, however, he was also a sub-four minute miler.  The great American miler, Glenn Cunningham of Kansas, was a hero for Marsh, who was able to meet Cunningham and talk about how Glenn had overcome a childhood accident where his legs were burnt so badly that he almost died when a stove exploded and set him on fire.  The doctors told him he might never walk again.

Cunningham not only walked he won a silver medal in the 1936 Olympics at 1500 meters.  He set both the indoor and outdoor world record for the mile and the WR for 800 meters.  His best time was 4:04.4 and it was due, in part to his efforts and those of a handful of others who followed that the sub-four minute mile became  a coveted goal for the group who was pushing each other to be the first to record a time under four minutes for the mile.

As he told the group in his talk, running under four minutes was one of his goals. On August 16, 1985, perhaps Marsh's best year athletically, he lined up for a mile race in Bern, Switzerland.  He was 31-years-old.  Three minutes, fifty nine point 31 seconds after the starting gun was fired, March achieved his goal.  Such is the lure of the sub-four that Marsh still lists it among his most treasured accomplishments.

420 US runners have now done it, but it still is a significant milestone for those achieving that status.  The TC 1 Mile men's race will probably be won by one or more of the contestants going under four.  Someday a woman will break that barrier.  Such is the magic of the mile.

AP's Steve Wilson's interview with Sir Roger Bannister is HERE.

BBC 5 Live audio report on Bannister's sub-four is HERE.

Minneapolis Running Google+  hangout with Heather Kampf and Will Leer at 7:30 PM is HERE.

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