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Richard O'Brien
January 31, 1994
Miracle Milers
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January 31, 1994


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Miracle Milers

There were echoes from the past everywhere last Saturday at the Legends Mile in Miami, an event that more than lived up to its name. On hand were former world-mile-record holders Peter Snell (3:54.1 in 1964), Jim Ryun (3:51.1 in '67) and Steve Cram (3:46.32 in '85), plus 1968 Olympic 1,500-meter champion Kip Keino, former No. 1-ranked 1,500-meter runner Marty Liquori and '72 Olympic marathon winner Frank Shorter. And, most magically, there on breezy Biscayne Boulevard, was honorary starter Roger Bannister, who on May 6 will mark, with characteristic dignity, the 40th anniversary of his historic four-minute mile.

The runners set off at staggered intervals, based on the time each had predicted for himself. Snell estimated that he would clock 6:15, so he started first, still running up on his toes at 55. He finished in 5:57.6. Ryun looks very much like the tall, gangly boy who appeared virtually out of nowhere in 1964, an Olympian before his senior year in high school. His head still wobbles when he gets tired. But at 47 he wears hearing aids in both cars, a revealing concession for a runner whose balance deserted him at some critical times. On Saturday, Ryun ran 5:29, nine seconds slower than he had predicted.

The battle of the day was between Liquori, 44, and Keino, 54, who started together, each having predicted 6:00. They ran shoulder to shoulder all the way around the one-loop course. With 100 yards to go they launched into a ferocious sprint. "We were not playing around." said Liquori. "1 felt a little embarrassed to be sprinting so hard and not dropping a guy who's 10 years older." He may have reached the finish slightly before Keino, but the result was judged to be a dead heat, in 5:23.6.

Presiding over all of this—and looking slightly out of place in his blue blazer and gray wool trousers amid the throng of roller bladers and halter tops—was Bannister. He does not dwell in the past but will wax eloquent on it when called upon to do so. "When I went up to Oxford, I wanted to take part in sport," said Sir Roger. "I was too light for rowing, and I wasn't skilled enough for rugby. But I knew I could run."

On a drizzly afternoon in 1954, at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, he ran the 3:59.4 mile that changed track forever. "I suppose people will remember me for [the four-minute mile]," he said. "But my life has other strands."

Indeed. The Four Minute Mile, which Bannister wrote in six weeks as a 26-year-old medical student, remains one of the best sports books you'll ever read. As chairman of the British Sports Council, he instituted track's first drug-testing program, in 1973. Bannister retired last October after eight years as Master of Oxford's Pembroke College, but he hardly plans to be inactive: He will edit medical journals and revise the third edition of his Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System. He's 65 now and walks with a cane after breaking his right ankle in a car accident in '75. But he still gets exercise, by cycling.

"He's delightful," said Ryun simply, summing up the feelings of his fellow legends.

The Cincinnati Kids

In the wake of public discussion about the role of basketball coaches in education, it is sad to see that some coaches provide classrooms nobody should study in. A couple of them are in Cincinnati.

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