With the Olympics returning to Australia in 2000, John Landy has
again been called to the service of his country. In February
1998, Landy, a former world-record holder in the 1,500 meters
and the mile--the second man to run the latter distance in less
than four minutes--was named to the board of the Australian
Sports Drug Agency, his country's watchdog against the use of
illicit performance enhancers. The banned drug that most scares
the 69-year-old Landy is erythropoietin (EPO), an anemia
medication that increases production of red blood cells and is
almost impossible to spot in drug testing. The drug was at the
center of last summer's Tour de France scandal and threatens to
cast a shadow over the Sydney Games.
This isn't the first time Landy has helped Australia prepare for
the Games. In May 1956 he was sent by his homeland's Olympic
organizers on a two-week tour of Hawaii and California to fan
American interest in the Melbourne Games. The trip was reported
on the front pages Down Under, and Landy was besieged by
American reporters at every stop.
At the time, Landy's worldwide fame was closely connected to
Roger Bannister's. Just 46 days after Bannister's May 6, 1954,
shattering of the four-minute barrier, Landy, who many had
expected to be the first miler under four minutes, surpassed
Bannister's record by 1.4 seconds. Their August '54 showdown at
the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver had the
buildup of a championship prizefight, garnering such headlines
as THE MILE OF THE CENTURY and DUEL OF THE FOUR-MINUTE MEN. A
capacity crowd of 32,000 roared as Bannister, using his patented
kick on the final stretch, caught Landy from 15 yards behind and
won in 3:58.8. Today Landy plays down the rivalry with
Bannister. "Four minutes was not a psychological barrier," says
Landy. "Someone was going to break it. If there hadn't been a
war, it would have fallen 10 years earlier."
After a stint teaching grammar school science, in 1989 he became
the chairman of the Wool Research Corporation, and later served
as chairman of the Australian Meat Research Corporation. Landy
has written two books on natural history: Close to Nature and A
Coastal Diary. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, Lynne, and
has two grown children. Landy says his two most memorable races
were his loss to Bannister in Vancouver and a crushing defeat in
the Melbourne Games 1,500 at the hands of Ireland's Ron Delany.
(Landy won the bronze medal.) Still, he says, "I may have lost
the two biggest races of my running career, but the sport has
been a big part of a very rich life."
May 30, 1999
Landy's 1954 showdown with Roger Bannister was called the Mile
of the Century.