In the three years since Dr. Roger Bannister of England led the world's milers across the four-minute barrier, five Americans have come close and failed. As other milers crowded the barrier, a gangling 17-year-old, Donald Paul Bowden, was developing into a remarkable half-miler in San Jose, Calif., setting a new high school record of 1:52.3. As a college freshman, Bowden also ran the mile as a sideline and set a freshman record of 4:11.7. Last year, Half-Miler Bowden's sideline won him a spot on the Olympic team in the 1,500 meters. This spring again, Bowden ran the half and occasionally the mile. In a relay race four weeks ago, Bowden was clocked in 4:01.6 for the mile—a potential four-minute man well worth watching.
Last weekend—when almost no one was watching—Don Bowden decided to break the barrier. Feeling a bit poorly after a week of exams, Bowden drove 75 miles to Stockton, Calif., where a gallery half filling the 6,000-capacity stadium was watching a modest show of strength in a regional AAU meet. If it was windy and cold, Bowden planned to run the half. It was mild and almost windless, so Bowden entered the mile. "If you hit the half in 2:01," Coach Brutus Hamilton counseled him, "go ahead." Bowden hit the half in 2:00.8, the field already strung behind him. Bowden went on, unpaced, against the clock, gathering up the cheers of the crowd with each long, loose stride to the tape. Then as he got his wind, came the announcement many an American miler has been hoping to hear: "The winner, Don Bowden. Time: 3:58.7. He is the first American to run a four-minute mile."