mile was secure, but it was only a question of time before John Landy from
Australia or Wes Santee from America broke the barrier too, perhaps lowering my
record as well. We had proved in Oxford that the four-minute mile was possible,
and now the progress would continue. Landy, in search of ideal record-breaking
conditions, arrived in Finland just before my Oxford run. His first attempt
took 4 minutes 1.6 seconds, and I waited expectantly for even better time.
Then one day
Chris Chataway surprised me by saying he had decided to go to Finland to race
against Landy. I said I felt certain that this would provide Landy with the
stimulus he was so obviously needing. In Finland he had already run four races
close to the four-minute mile, but he still seemed unable to cut down the last
two seconds. Chris thought there must be something wrong with a runner who
could break 4 minutes 3 seconds so many times and yet not get below four
minutes, even under Scandinavian conditions. He thought he might beat Landy,
who was believed to have no finishing burst, by hanging on and sprinting past
him in the final straight. At the time, quite humanly I think, I was a little
upset at the thought that in the process Landy might break my own record.
So, after having
pulled me from in front at Oxford, Chris went to Finland and pushed Landy from
behind at Turku. They raced on June 21, and weather conditions were ideal.
Landy led after the first lap. He glanced behind him at the bell and, seeing
Chris on his heels, took fright as he had never done during his solo runs.
Almost for the first time, under the stimulus of real competition, he unleashed
a tremendous finish, which at last brought him below four minutes. He set up a
magnificent new world record of 3 minutes 58 seconds.
I was waiting
for the news at home and heard the first announcement. For a few minutes I was
stunned. The margin of 1.4 seconds by which he had broken my record was even
greater than anything I had feared.
struggle between Landy and myself now began. In six weeks we were to race
against each other in the Empire Games in Vancouver. The four-minute mile,
however final and perfect it had seemed at Oxford, now meant nothing unless I
could defeat John Landy.
My plans were
extremely simple. I had to force Landy to set the pace of a four-minute mile
for me, rather as Arne Andersson had done for Gunder H�gg in 1945. I must
reserve my effort of will power for the moment when I would fling myself past
him near the finish. Until then I would be entirely passive, thinking of
nothing else throughout the whole race.
Landy had always
run his best races from the front. My only worry was that at the last minute he
might try to run a waiting race. If he did this, then either of us might win,
and the final time would be slow. The race would give no satisfaction either to
us or to the spectators. To dissuade him from running this kind of race I tried
to demonstrate in the AAA Championships on July 10, 1954, only three weeks
before the Empire Games, what might happen if he failed to set a fast enough
I waited behind
the field until the beginning of the back straight, 300 yards from the tape.
Then I tore home with the fastest sprint I could produce. My time was 4 minutes
7.6 seconds, and I ran the last lap in 53.8 seconds, almost as fast as I can
run a flat 440 yards. I had some added verve for the race because I had
qualified as a doctor the day before. Including my research in Oxford, I had
been studying and running for nearly eight years.
I knew that the
only weak spot in John Landy's racing armor was his finish, and I now hoped I
had convinced him that he must lead.
On the day of
the final, Saturday, August 7, the stadium was filled with one of the most
enthusiastic crowds I have ever seen. The setting was perfect. The newly built
stadium lay there in the sunshine, the flags of the competing countries
silhouetted against the mountains of Vancouver Island.