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August 17, 2009
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August 17, 2009

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EXCERPT | Aug. 16, 1954

Miracle Milers

The race between the world's first four-minute men

Three months after breaking the barrier Roger Bannister battled the man who had since lowered his record. Paul O'Neil wrote in SI's debut issue.

The art of running the mile consists, in essence, of reaching the threshold of unconsciousness at the instant of breasting the tape. It is not an easy process, for the body rebels against such agonizing usage and must be disciplined by the spirit and the mind. It is infinitely more difficult in the amphitheater of competition, for then the runner must remain alert and cunning despite the fogs of fatigue and pain; his instinctive calculation of pace must encompass maneuvers for position, and he must harbor strength to answer the moves of other men before expending his last reserves. Few events in sport offer so ultimate a test, and the world of track has never seen anything equal to the "Mile of the Century," which England's Dr. Roger Gilbert Bannister—the tall, pale-skinned explorer of human exhaustion who first crashed the four-minute barrier—won last Saturday from Australia's world-record holder, John Michael Landy.

It was the most widely heralded and universally contemplated footrace of all time. Thirty-two thousand people jostled and screamed while it was run in Vancouver's new Empire Stadium, millions followed it by television. Despite the necessity of jockeying on the early turns and of moving up in a field of six other good men, Bannister ran a blazing 3:58.8 and Landy 3:59.6. Landy's world record of 3:58 still stood, but on the battlefield Landy was beaten, man to man, and Roger Bannister reigned again as the giant of modern track.

Bannister retired from running that December to study medicine. He was named SI's 1954 Sportsman of the Year, then later became a neurologist.

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