Saturday, May 9, 2015

Breaking the Four-Minute Mile

Last night, Matt Maton became the sixth high school student ever to run a mile in less than four minutes.  Only two others have beat his time, which was clocked at 3:59.38.

The run came during the Oregon Twilight, an annual meet at the University of Oregon, whose strong track program counts 42 alumni who have run the mile in under four minutes.  

Like most such runs, this was accomplished with the help of pacemakers, called "rabbits" in the track world, who help the aspiring record breaker gauge his speed.  

In fact, Maton's two pacers, seniors on the Oregon squad, placed first and second in the race -- the first achieving his first sub-4 and the other his second.  Maton came in third after an heroic push in the final stretch.

Roger Bannister

Last night's event came 61 years and three days after Roger Bannister became the first human to run the mile in less than four minutes.  

Bannister, 25 years old at the time, was a medical student who had won a track scholarship to Oxford University in Great Britain.  Before his famous run, fans were disillusioned with him, believing that he was more interested in studying neurology than breaking track records,  

Bannister had something to prove, and so he set his sights on a record in the mile.  Paced by two of his classmates, he clocked in at 3:59.4 in a race at his university. 

Before Bannister's run, it was assumed generally that no man could run a mile in less than four minutes.  (So far, no woman has done so.)

But once Bannister had shattered the myth, others were quick to follow.  Less than a month later, Australian John Landy set a new record, beating Bannister's time by less than a second at a meet in Finland.  

Later that summer, Bannister and Landy raced each other in Vancouver, B.C., and both ran in under four minutes; Bannister's sprint on the final straightaway put him first over the finish line, 0.8 second and five yards ahead of Landy.

I'm not sure anybody has kept a record of all the runners who have run the mile in less than four minutes, but it still ranks as a prodigious achievement. 

Here are the other high-school sub-4 runners, their years and their times.   Some pretty famous names are on the list.  We'll have to keep an eye on this Maton kid.

Boys High School Mile All-Time

3:53.43 Alan Webb (2001)

3:55.30 Jim Ryun (1965)

3:59.38 Matthew Maton (2015)

3:59.40 Tim Danielson (1966)

3:59.71 Lukas Verzbicas (2011)

3:59.80 Marty Liquori (1967)

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