The Perfect Mile

The Perfect Mile

Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

Book - 2004
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There was a time when running the mile in four minutes was believed to be entirely beyond the limits of human foot speed. And in all of sport it was the elusive holy grail. In 1952, after suffering defeat at the Helsinki Olympics, three world-class runners set out individually to break this formidable barrier. Roger Bannister was a young English medical student who epitomized the ideal of the amateur -- still driven not just by winning but by the nobility of the pursuit. John Landy was theprivileged son of a genteel Australian family, who as a boy preferred butterfly collecting to running but who trained relentlessly in an almost spiritual attempt to shape his mind and body to this singular task. Then there was Wes Santee, the swaggering American, a Kansas farm boy and natural athlete who believed he was just plain better than everybody else.
Santee was the first to throw down the gauntlet in what would become a three-way race of body, heart, and soul. Each young man endured thousands of hours of training, bore the weight of his nation's expectations on his shoulders, and still dared to push to the very limit. Their collective quest captivated the world and stole headlines from the Korean War, the atomic race, and such legendary figures as Edmund Hillary, Willie Mays, Native Dancer, and Ben Hogan. Who would be the first to achieve the unachievable? And who among them would be the best when they raced head to head? In the answer came the perfect mile.
In the tradition of Seabiscuit and Chariots of Fire, Neal Bascomb delivers a breathtaking story of unlikely heroes and leaves us with a lasting portrait of the twilight years of the golden age of sport.
Publisher: Boston :, Houghton Mifflin Co.,, 2004.
ISBN: 9780618391127
Branch Call Number: 796.420922 BA
Characteristics: xii, 322 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Jan 20, 2017

What a great read. Bascomb writes a wonderful story, backed by amazing facts. He interviewed all 3 runners, added significant history and keeps the reader totally engaged. Also adds some very thoughtful comments and facts.

Highly recommended. Don't know whether the print version has more photographs and an index.

rb3221 Feb 04, 2016

This is the incredible story of three very different athletes from three different countries vying to become the first sub 4 minute miler, a feat declared impossible by many. Bascomb spends time outlining the early years of these three men and how they became the milers that they were and their individual motivations. Santee was the first to declare he would be the first to achieve the feat. Landry trained so hard as to immunize himself from pain. Banting wanted to capture the 4 minute mile to achieve greatness without the sacrifice of everything else in life. In learning of the other athletes's successes, each increased their training to epic proportions. The stage was set for their historic race in the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954. Unfortunately Santee became a victim of the hypocrisy and unchecked power of the A.A.A. and was not allowed to compete.
The last pages of the book go into great detail explaining the pre-race tactics and mind set of these two superb athletes. Both were gathering the determination and will to win. But both had doubts!! "Would Bannister's stinging finish win out over Landry's astounding stamina or would it be the other way around?"
This book was compelling and gripping, well researched and very readable filled with drama, suspense and intrigue. I highly recommend it (and I am not even a runner).

P.S. you can watch the race on You-Tube.

May 28, 2015

A friend loaned me this book since he knew I was a runner. I’ve never been a competitive runner, and never on a track team, so I was never in the kind of world depicted in this book. This is, of course, non-fiction, which means you have to be into either biographies or running, or at least have a healthy curiosity about it for the book to be interesting to you. Despite the specialized target audience, the author managed to bring real drama into the book. The lives of the three featured runners are brought into detailed relief. One Englishman, one Aussie, one American, all striving to be the first to break the 4-minute mile. You probably already know which one did unless you’re a lot younger than me and not much interested in track. But the book is not just about the first to break that magic barrier. The title refers to that perfect mile race where the three top milers in the world race against each other to see who is really the best. The training regimens these three follow are absolutely mind-boggling. The hardships they faced are unimaginable – a father who opposes his son’s efforts, weather disasters, a badly cut foot, politics among Olympic officials, AAU officials, the sports press, individual coaches and team coaches, amateur status and work and study and military obligations, ad infinitum. You’d think it would be easy enough just to invite the three of them to a race and let them prove who the best man was, but it wasn’t that easy. My biggest complaint is that it was just too long. The story could have been told in half as many pages, but it was well-told.

Mar 31, 2015

Thrilling and enjoyable. In the days of true amateurs, the athletes were interesting and accomplished people outside the stadium.

Nov 16, 2009



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Jun 20, 2014

Sport is not about being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking your chances

Jun 20, 2014

Every morning in Africa, an antelope wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest antelope or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or an antelope- when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.


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