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The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It Paperback – April 6, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The attempt by three men in the 1950s to become the first to run the mile in less than four minutes is a classic 20th-century sports story. Bascomb's excellent account captures all of the human drama and competitive excitement of this legendary racing event. It helps that the story and its characters are so engaging to begin with. The three rivals span the globe: England's Roger Bannister, who combines the rigors of athletic training with the "grueling life of a medical student"; Australia's John Landy, "driven by a demand to push himself to the limit"; and Wes Santee from the U.S., a brilliant strategic runner who became the "victim" of the "[h]ypocrisy and unchecked power" of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Although Bannister broke the record before Landy, Landy soon broke Bannister's record, and the climax of the book is a long and superb account of the race between the two men at the Empire Games in Vancouver on August 7, 1954. Bascomb provides the essential details of this "Dream Race"â"which was heard over the radio by 100 million peopleâ"while Santee, who may have been able to beat both of them, was forced by AAU restrictions to participate only as a broadcast announcer. Bascomb definitively shows how this perfect race not only was a "defining moment in the history of the mileâ"and of sport as well," but also how it reveals "a sporting world in transition" from amateurism to professionalism.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From The New Yorker
On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister, a British medical student who squeezed in track workouts between hospital rounds, became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. It was a feat that had widely been thought impossible, but within seven weeks an even faster time was posted by the Australian John Landy, setting up a showdown later that year in a race that was billed as the "Mile of the Century." In masterly fashion, Bascomb re-creates the battle of the milers, embellishing his account with fascinating forays into runner's lore. (In the seventeenth century, athletes had their spleens excised to boost speed; in the nineteenth, they were advised to rest in bed at noon naked.) It's a mark of Bascomb's skill that, although the outcome of the race is well known, he keeps us in suspense, rendering in graphic detail the runners' agony down the final stretch.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
Roger Bannister is the thinking man's runner, with the classic middle distance athlete's long stride and finishing kick as well as insights into the scientific principles that underlie cardiovascular exertion. These strengths, however, are offset by the demanding medical studies that severely limit his training time and by his tendency to become overwrought before big races.
John Landy is the workhorse of the trio, logging more miles than the others and able to bring a single-minded focus to the task. But he lacks the closing speed and power of the classic milers, forcing him to run the legs out of his competitors from the front.
Wes Santee, the least famous and accomplished of the three, may well be the most talented. Yet the demands of his University of Kansas track schedule, military commitments, and confrontations with track and field's governing body are impediments that prove too difficult to overcome.
For me, the best part of this book was the fact that these three men pursued this historic goal in a noble and dignified fashion that made you really pull for each of them somehow to be the first.Read more ›
The Australian, John Landy, competed by seeing to it that he was the best conditioned athlete on the track. In the early 50s Australia was an athletic backwater. After returning home to Australia from the disappointment of failing to even make the semifinal qualifying heat in the mile at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Landy embarked on a brutal training regimen, inspired by the physical fitness guru and great Czech runner Emil Zatopek who won gold at Helsinki in the 5000 meter, 10,000 meter and marathon events, and who Landy humbly approached as an acolyte near the close of the games.Read more ›
There were two related aspects to change at this time in track and field (and by extension other already professional sports). The more obvious was the glaring contradiction between the old, 100% pure amateur model on the one hand, and the growing business and media phenomenon we know today on the other. This subtext is brought out in the second part of the story, and especially in the sad tale of the straight-talking American, Wes Santee.
But this was also a period of radical change in training methods. Emil Zatopek, the Czech runner who won the 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter, AND marathon runs at the 1952 Olympics, is the key figure at the outset of the book. His successes taught runners like Bannister, Landy, and Santee that more training, and harder training, would yield faster times. The author outlines older ideas of conditioning that look ridiculously precious and half-hearted by modern standards. As a masters athlete I was especially struck by this phase of the story, and the author does a good job of recapping the sorts of training the runners did throughout.
The three are so characteristic of their countries, they could almost be fictional types. American Wes Santee is brash and outspoken. It is he who calls the financial bluff of the Neanderthal-like powers that ruled amateur athletics in his day, and it is he who is most severely victimized in the process. (In a kind of entrapment scenario, he was given extra money by one set of AAU officials, and then banned for life by others.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An inspiring tale that captures you in the first chapter and doesn't let you go. It makes you want to run.Published 17 days ago by SLWoodworth
Excellent book! Learn about three great runners and difficulties they each had trying to break through the four minute mile recordPublished 1 month ago by Frances Crighton
We all know how the story ends, but his retelling is fresh and compelling. The stories of Santee and Landy ar much less well known and worth telling. Read morePublished 1 month ago by S. Bassin
This is my second book by Bascomb. He has done it again. He has written a beautiful n gripping story about the 3 milers. Read morePublished 1 month ago by YIPLIU
Truly enjoyed this glimpse into the lives of three incredible men and the running world of the 40s and 50s.Published 2 months ago by M. Song
I had to buy this book for a class and it is AMAZING! I'm so glad my teacher had us read this book. So inspiring and so well written. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Sara
I remember the runners involved in this story in that I was just getting started with the sport as a school boy. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sandy Scott
Growing up in the late fifties/early sixties, I learned to love running. I wish I had this book back then. What an inspiration! Read morePublished 4 months ago by John
Neal Bascomb masterfully weaves the biographies of three athletic heroes into a very well-told tale that compels the reader to keep coming back for more. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer