Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Miracle Mile

In less than six months from now, the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, and yesterday the Vancouver Sun Newspaper reported that there will be a higher attendance here, and more media coverage, than for any previous Olympics. So, as of February 2010, the world will discover Vancouver. I think it will be fun, I'm probably one of the rare Vancouverites who is looking forward to it. Everyone wants to leave for two weeks, but I want to stay right here and be in the middle of all the excitement.

The really fun part of any sporting event is the drama. There is always someone who rises to the top and becomes the star of the show. And of course, there are always the upsets -- the underdogs whom no one expects to take home the glory. Those are the people and events of which legends are made. In one such event fifty-five years ago, on May 6, 1954, a British medical student named Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile by running a mile in Oxford, England, in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. For more than a century, athletes had dreamed about and aspired to running the four-minute mile, but many experts suggested it was physiologically impossible, but Roger Banniser did it and made history. The second man to break the four-minute mile was John Landy of Australia, in June 1954, one month after Roger Bannister had broken it.

In August 1954 the British Empire Games were held in Vancouver, and Roger Bannister and John Landy competed against each other. This meeting of the world's two fastest milers was called "The Miracle Mile". It was heard over the radio by 100 million people and seen on television by millions more. During that race, both runners broke the four-minute mile, the first time two competing athletes had done it during the same race. On the final turn of the last lap, as Landy looked over his left shoulder, Bannister passed him on the right. A larger-than-life bronze sculpture of the two men at this moment was created by Vancouver sculptor Jack Harman in 1967 from a photograph by Vancouver Sun photographer Charlie Warner, and it stands at the entrance to the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) fairgrounds.

The story of this race had everything -- history, drama, pathos. My father always used to say, "If only Landy had not looked over his shoulder, that race would have been a tie."

Now that would have been a story.

Here is a wonderful little video clip from 1954, set to the music from "Chariot's of Fire", showing Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile for the first time in history. It's quite amazing. Can you imagine being there and watching it happen. I hope the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will have something equally dramatic, and I would love to be there to watch it happen.


Land of shimp said...

The Olympics are always so exciting! The host cities prepare, and prepare, and you know, they never disappoint. I hope it goes fabulously for Vancouver, and I'm sure the world will fall deeply in love with your city.

Giants in memory emerge at each of the games. I remember watching the Olympics with my dad, during a track and field event. I was kid, and the announcer mentioned Jesse Owens. I turned to my dad (I've mentioned elsewhere he was a historian) and asked who that was, because I knew my dad would know.

"He was the man who flung mud in Hitler's eye, sweetheart." And he was beaming, then his voice broke a little bit, and he teared up, his admiration for Owens was so evident. "God love and keep him, he was the man who flung mud in Hitler's eye!"

A little later he told me the specifics and I was even more convinced that my father had just invoked a name with honor, and courage.

Isn't that just the stuff of the Olympics? It's more than athletes, and more than about countries, too.

Jo said...

Alane, I LOVE the story of Jesse Owens. It's a wonderful story. He did indeed fling mud in Hitler's eye.

Sunny said...

Thank you for the truly moving clip of Sir Roger Bannister.
Sunny :)

Jennifer D said...

I would stay too! I couldn't leave with the Olympics coming. I love to watch the Olympics and I can't wait to learn more about Vancouver.

Land of shimp said...

I agree, Jo. He stands as a Colossus in my mind to this day.

I love the Olympics. One of the few memories I have of my parents together, they divorced when I was quite young and I lived with my dad, has to do with the Olympics. I was five and it was the Munich games. I knew what a "gorilla" was, but I couldn't understand why both of my parents were crying. It was one of the few times I saw them united on anything. Of course, I grew older and realized it was "guerrillas" that had made them cry.

I bring that up because you seem interested in films also. There's a fabulous, although heart breaking, documentary called One Day in September about the events of the Munich Olympics.

I prefer my memories of the Olympics to be of the best that we contain, but I mention the film because that's part of Olympic history, also. I think to truly honor the incredible achievements of the athletes around the world it is important to remember what the Olympics has overcome, too.

What a lovely post, and what wonderful things it has me thinking about on this rainy day. Thank you.

lovelyprism said...

Jo, you are going to LOVE this! We lived in Salt Lake City when the Winter Olympics was held there. There's so much more to it than just the sporting events. I particularly loved the art shows. Dale Chihuly had an exhibit there and it was fabulous! Watch for the schedule of exhibits, I bet you'll find plenty that you'd like to see.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I'm sorry to say I actually remember when that happened or I shouldn't say that. I guess at my age you should be glad to be able to remember that far back.
Love the photo of the statue. It's lovely.

jay dee said...

Yes Jo I must admit I also remember reading about that great event and it was on every ones lips as it was discussed ad infinitum, great memories ,I am afraid thats about as much as I can do these days is visit memory lane.

Judi said...

I was at several track and other events when the Olympics where in Atlanta. I don't think I was as amazed by it all while it was happening as I was when I got home and was watching the closing celebration. I kept thinking, "wow, I was there".

When I hear "miracle mile", though, I think of shopping in Chicago:)

Leslie: said...

This gave me goosebumps, Josie! Like you, I wish I could have been there, but at the age I was then, I would never have understand the importance and impact he had on the sport!

TC said...

I think I'd like to stay for the Olympics like you. I'm sure there will be many memories being made, I remember when the American Hockey Team beat Russia? I think in the 70s or early 80s. I will always remember that forever.

Alissa said...

I used to run track and cross country when I was in school and remember some rule about losing x number of seconds each time you looked over your shoulder. I always bothered my coach by winning races "at the wire" and sprinting past an opponent at the very end. I remember on more than once occasion one of my opponents not realizing I was right at their heels would actually stop running a few steps shy of the finish line thinking they had already won, only to come in second place when slipped past them. So, in running, as well as life, don't look over your shoulder and don't stop until you actually make it to the finish line.

ivan said...

The quote is way outdated, made by Voltaire in about 1820. But I think it's funny.
"Who cares about a few acres of snow."

Paula Slade said...

The Olympics are so exciting! Will you be seeing any of the events in person? Loved the video clip - priceless!