The “four-minute barrier”
The distance of the English mile gained its current definition of 1,760 yards . Read below if you want to know why a statute mile is 1,760 yards.
For all those years, no one could ever break what was know as the “The Four Minute Barrier.” Experts were convinced that the human just physiologically could not cover a mile (1760 yards) in less than 4 minutes. Well on May 6th, 1954, a cold windy day in Oxford England Rodger Bannister changed all that as he broke for four minute mile with a time of, 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The world record did not last long as within a few months it was broken by his teammate.
The “four-minute barrier” has since been broken by many male athletes, and is now the gold standard for all male professional middle distance runners.If you can’t run a mile in under 4 minutes, you can’t make the team. In the last 50 years the mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds, and currently stands at 3:43.13.
The Four Minute Mile
For years, so many athletes had tried and failed to run a mile in less than four minutes that people made it out to be a physical impossibility. The world record for a mile was 4 minutes and 1.3 seconds, set by Gunder Hagg of Sweden in 1945. Despite, or perhaps because of, the psychological mystique surrounding the four-minute barrier, several runners in the early 1950s dedicated themselves to being the first to cross into the three-minute zone.
Roger Bannister, born in Harrow, England, in 1929, was a top mile-runner while a student at the University of Oxford and at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. In 1951 and 1953, he won British championships in the mile run. As he prepared himself for his first competitive race of the 1954 season, Bannister researched the mechanics of running and trained using new scientific methods he developed. On May 6, 1954, he came to the Iffley Road track in Oxford for the annual match between the Amateur Athletic Association and Oxford University. Conditions were far from ideal; it had been windy and raining. A considerable crosswind was blowing across the track as the mile race was set to begin.
At 6 p.m., the starting gun was fired. In a carefully planned race, Bannister was aided by Chris Brasher, a former Cambridge runner who acted as a pacemaker. For the first half-mile, Brasher led the field, with Bannister close behind, and then another runner took up the lead and reached the three-quarter-mile mark in 3 minutes 0.4 seconds, with Bannister at 3 minutes 0.7 seconds. Bannister took the lead with about 350 yards to go and passed an unofficial timekeeper at the 1,500-meter mark in 3 minutes 43 seconds, thus equaling the world’s record for that distance. Thereafter, Bannister threw in all his reserves and broke the tape in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. As soon as the first part of his score was announced–“three minutes…”–the crowd erupted in pandemonium.
Bannister went on to win British and Empire championships in the mile run, and the European title in the 1,500-meter event in 1954. At the end of the year, Bannister retired from athletic competition to pursue his medical career full time and in 1955 recounted his experiences in the book The Four Minute Mile. He later earned a medical degree from Oxford and became a neurologist. In 1975, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
His world record in the mile did not stand long, and the record continued to be lowered with increasingly controlled climatic and surface conditions, more accurate timing devices, and improvements in training and running techniques. A “sub-four” is still a notable time, but top international runners now routinely accomplish the feat. Because a mile is not a metric measurement, it is not a regular track event nor featured in the Olympics. It continues, however, to be run by many top runners as a glamour event.
In 2000 it is a requirement to run a four minute mile to be a collegiate athlete.
The concept of the mile originated in Roman times. The Romans used a unit of distance called the mille passum, which literally translated into “a thousand paces.” Since each pace was considered to be five Roman feet—which were a bit shorter than our modern feet—the mile ended up being 5,000 Roman feet, or roughly 4,850 of our modern feet.
If the mile originated with 5,000 Roman feet, how did we end up with a mile that is 5,280 feet? Blame the furlong. The furlong wasn’t always just an arcane unit of measure that horseracing fans gabbed about; it once had significance as the length of the furrow a team of oxen could plow in a day. In 1592, Parliament set about determining the length of the mile and decided that each one should be made up of eight furlongs. Since a furlong was 660 feet, we ended up with a 5,280-foot mile.