Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 165 February 2024 | Page 60


SA ’ s Dream


With 2024 being the 70th anniversary year of the world ’ s first sub-four-minute , as well the 60th anniversary year of South Africa ’ s first sub-four , as well as the 70th anniversary of the women ’ s first sub-five-minute mile , let ’ s take a closer historical and statistical look at the history of what is now known as the ‘ Dream Mile .’ – BY SEAN FALCONER with RIËL HAUMAN

At the start of the 1950s , the world believed there were just two physiological barriers left to conquer . The one was to climb the world ’ s highest mountain , Everest , at 8488m above sea level , made all the harder by the so-called ‘ Death Zone ’ above 8000m . The other was to run a mile in less than four minutes , which had long been thought to be impossible , because the World Record for the mile ( 1609 metres ) had remained ‘ stuck ’ at just over four minutes for a number of years .

On 29 May 1953 , Everest was conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay . Just under a year later , on 6 May 1954 , Britain ’ s Roger Bannister finally broke through the four-minute barrier when he clocked 3:59.4 on the famous Iffley track in Oxford . In the space of just one year , both of these supposedly impossible barriers had been shattered .
Roger Bannister beats John Landy in the Miracle Mile
Australia ’ s John Landy then bettered the mile World Record just 46 days later , clocking 3:57.9 on 21 June , later rounded to 3:58.0 .
When the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games took place two months later in Vancouver , Canada , the men ’ s mile was one of the most anticipated , as the Bannister and Landy would be racing each other . In an epic battle that was instantly dubbed the “ Miracle Mile ,” the world ’ s first two subfour milers took it right down to the line , with Landy appearing to have clinched the sprint finish , but when he looked over his left shoulder , just before the line , to check on his opponent , the Brit passed him on the right and gained a small but decisive lead . Bannister took the gold medal in 3:58.8 to Landy ’ s 3:59.6 , and it was the first time that two athletes clocked a sub-four in the same event .
With the four-minute barrier firmly broken , more and more athletes began going sub-four – by the end of 1956 , 10 athletes had achieved this milestone ( pun intended ). By August 1958 , the tally was 20 athletes , and on 22 July 1964 , Britain ’ s Bill McKim became the 50th athlete in the world to do it . Up to that point , 15 countries could claim to have a sub-four miler , including Rhodesian Terry Sullivan , who had run 3:59.8 in Dublin in 1960 . However , in November 1964 , South Africa was added to that list – and the country ’ s first sub-four brought another world ‘ first .’
Start of a New Era
The mile was very much in the South African news in 1964 , thanks largely to New Zealand ’ s Peter Snell touring the country early in the year . When he clocked 3:59.6 in Durban on 18 March , it was the first sub-four ever run on SA soil . ( Snell would go on to win the Olympic 800m and mile titles later that year .) The country didn ’ t have long to wait for its own sub-four , however . On 13 November 1964 , Maties student De Villiers Lamprecht ran 3:59.4 on the
De Villiers Lamprecht
famous Coetzenberg track in Stellenbosch , taking four seconds off Harold Clarke ’ s former SA Record .
Lamprecht – or Div , as he was widely known – was just the 54th athlete in the world to break the four-minute barrier , and that was already big news , but he was also the first athlete in the world to do so barefoot ! ( Some believe he may be the only athlete ever to have done so , but that is not definitively known .) Lamprecht would
Images : Pexels , Maties Athletics , United Press International / Wikimedia , Hoffie Hoffmeister / Athletics History , Albert Sessions & courtesy Two Oceans Marathon , Amazon , Villanova University
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