Quite by coincidence, history's first duel of sub-four-minute milers and the first issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED arrived stride-by-stride 10 years ago this summer and, through no coincidence at all, the magazine and the mile have never drifted very far apart. The lead story in that August 16, 1954 issue was Paul O'Neil's account of the famed Empire Games race between Roger Bannister and John Landy at Vancouver, B.C. In the years since, although we have never admired two milers more than the brilliant English physician (who was to become one of our contributing editors) and the gentle butterfly collector from Australia, we have admired and written of them all: Ron Delany, Laszlo Tabori, Herb Elliott, Jim Beatty, Peter Snell, Dyrol Burleson, Tom O'Hara, to mention just a few.
Man's fascination with the mile, in the role of spectator, has been explained before: the mile is a race of geometric perfection, four times around a 440-yard track; it produces a novel blend of speed, strategy and stamina; it is a race in which the observer has time to sit down and eat a hot dog—but not enough time in which to take a nap.
Never, however, has the mile been described from the competitor's viewpoint with more clarity and feeling than in two SI stories almost 10 years apart. In the first, Paul O'Neil wrote:
"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.... Few events in sport offer so ultimate a test of human courage and human will and human ability to dare and endure for the simple sake of struggle."
June 21, 1964
On page 26 of this issue, in his story on Loyola of Chicago's red-haired, 21-year-old Tom O'Hara, John Underwood tells what it is like today, when men run much faster than Roger Bannister although they still are subject to the same physiological forces.
After reading Underwood's report you may not want to run a mile at all. It is extremely doubtful, however, if you ever again will be able to resist reading about someone else running one.