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AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
Gary Smith
June 27, 1994
Forty years after Roger Bannister broke four minutes, the brotherhood of mile record holders gathered to honor their grand obsession
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June 27, 1994

An Exclusive Club

Forty years after Roger Bannister broke four minutes, the brotherhood of mile record holders gathered to honor their grand obsession

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JAZY: I ran so I would not have to fight the war in Algeria.

SNELL: I ran for recognition.

COE: I ran because I was meant to run.

LANDY: I loved to run because, in running, one's effort could be pinned down and quantified precisely.

IBBOTSON: I ran to prove to my father that I was better than my brother.

ELLIOTT: I ran later to prove that my spirit was the master of my body.

MORCELI: I run to be known as the greatest runner, the greatest of all time. I could not eat or sleep for a week after I lost in the [1992] Olympics. I have to win or die.

The bus pulled up to the Iffley Road track, where a battery of cameras four-dozen strong awaited the milers. Bannister's eyes rose to the white flag with the red cross, hoisted up the pole atop St. John the Evangelist Church just for this occasion—the same flag he studied 40 years ago to decide if the wind was telling him no. The starting pistol that commenced that race was laid in his hand, and the woman who fed him lunch that afternoon now stood at his side: Oh, do the Brits know how to do history. This was a celebration of the mile, not of himself, Bannister kept reminding everyone, but so much of the mile's magical dust was kicked up by Sir Roger's spikes on that long-ago day that it is no longer possible to sift one from the other.

The cinder track was gone, replaced in 1976 by a synthetic surface. Bannister, limping slightly from the car accident 19 years ago that damaged an ankle and ended his weekend jogging, walked with Morceli across the last 40 feet before the finish line, and the Algerian, perhaps emboldened by the rare air he was drawing in, confided to reporters that he planned to make attempts at records this year in the 800, 1,000, 1,500 and 5,000 meters as well as the mile and two miles. "You have to attempt this when you are young enough," he said softly, "and not let the chance go by."

It was Morceli, always with the shy grin, the bowed head—always showing a deference that few any longer expect from the young—whose presence most gratified his elders. But as sweet as Morceli was, Sir Roger couldn't help himself. His crusading cry as a runner had been that the athlete was just a sliver of the whole man, and the first chance he had, as he and Morceli posed side by side for photographs the day before, the doctor asked the professional runner, "Do you have any plans for after you retire? What will you do when you are 35?"

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