The history of the mile run event began in England, where it was used as a distance for gambling races. It survived track and field's switch to metric distances in the 1900s and retained its popularity, with the chase for the four-minute mile in the 1950s a high point for the race.
In spite of the roughly equivalent 1500 metres race, the mile run is present in all fields of athletics and it remains the only imperial distance for which the IAAF records an official world record. Although the mile does not feature at any major championship competition, the Wanamaker Mile and Dream Mile races are among the foremost annual middle-distance races indoors and outdoors, respectively.
The distance of the English mile gained its current definition of 5,280 feet through a statute of the Parliament of England in 1593. Thus, the history of the mile run began in England and it initially found usage within the wagered running contests of the 18th and 19th century. Such contests would attract large numbers of spectators and gamblers – so many that the activity became a professional one for its more-established participants.
The mile run was at the heart of the divide between professional and amateur sports in the late 19th century. Separate world record categories were kept for amateurs and professionals, with professional runners providing the faster times. High profile contests between Britons William Cummings and Walter George brought much publicity to the sport, as did George's races against the American Lon Myers. The mile run was also one of the foremost events at the amateur AAA Championships. The categories remained distinct but the respective rise in amateurism and decline of the professional sector saw the division become irrelevant in the 20th century.
The mile run continued to be a popular distance in spite of the metrification of track and field and athletics in general. It was the 1500 metres – referred to as the metric mile – which was featured on the Olympic athletics programme. The International Amateur Athletics Federation formed in 1912 and ratified the first officially recognised world record in the mile the following year (4:14.4 minutes run by John Paul Jones). The fact that the mile run was the only imperial distance to retain its official world record status after 1970 reflects its continued popularity in the international (and principally metric) era.
The top men's middle distance runners continued to compete in the mile run in the first half of the 1900s – Paavo Nurmi, Jack Lovelock and Sydney Wooderson were all world record holders over the distance. In the 1940s, Swedish runners Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson pushed times into a new territory, as they set three world records each during their rivalry over the decade. The act of completing a sub-four-minute mile sparked further interest in the distance in the 1950s. Englishman Roger Bannister became the first person to achieve the feat in May 1954 and his effort, conducted with the help of Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, was a key moment in the rise of the use of pacemakers at the top level of the sport – an aspect which is now commonplace at non-championship middle and long-distance races.
The 1960s saw American Jim Ryun set world records near the 3:50-minute mark and his achievements popularised interval workout techniques. From this period onwards, African runners began to emerge, breaking the largely white, Western dominance of the distance. Kenya's Kip Keino won the mile at at the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games (which was among the last mile races to be held at a major multi-sport event). Filbert Bayi of Tanzania became Africa's first world record holder over the distance in 1975, although New Zealander John Walker broke the record further a few months later to become the first man under 3:50 minutes for the event. The 1980s was highlighted by the rivalry between British runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, who improved the record five times between them, including two records at the Oslo Dream Mile race. Noureddine Morceli brought the mile record back into African hands in 1993 and Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj set the current record of 3:43.13, which has stood since 1999.
Mile run contests remain a key feature of many annual track and field meetings, with long-running series such as the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games, Dream Mile at the Bislett Games, the British Emsley Carr Mile, and the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic being among the most prominent. Aside from track races, mile races are also occasionally contested in cross country running and mile runs on the road include the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City
|World||3:43.13||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:12.56||Svetlana Masterkova (RUS)|
|Africa||3:43.13||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:18.23||Gelete Burka (ETH)|
|Asia||3:47.97||Daham Najim Bashir (QAT)||4:17.75||Maryam Yusuf Jamal (BHR)|
|Europe||3:46.32||Steve Cram (GBR)||4:12.56||Svetlana Masterkova (RUS)|
|North, Central America
|3:46.91||Alan Webb (USA)||4:16.71||Mary Slaney (USA)|
|Oceania||3:48.98||Craig Mottram (AUS)||4:22.66||Lisa Corrigan (AUS)|
|South America||3:51.05||Hudson de Souza (BRA)||4:30.05||Soraya Vieira Telles (BRA)|
|World||3:48.45||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:17.14||Doina Melinte (ROM)|
|Africa||3:48.45||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:23.33||Kutre Dulecha (ETH)|
|Asia||3:57.05||Mohamed Suleiman (QAT)||4:24.71||Maryam Yusuf Jamal (BHR)|
|Europe||3:49.78||Eamonn Coghlan (IRL)||4:17.14||Doina Melinte (ROM)|
|North, Central America
|3:49.89||Bernard Lagat (USA)||4:20.5||Mary Slaney (USA)|
|Oceania||3:52.8||John Walker (NZL)||4:24.14||Kim Smith (NZL)|
|South America||3:56.26||Hudson de Souza (BRA)||4:42.24||Valentina Medina (VEN)|
- Updated 12 June 2011.
All-time top ten
|1||3:43.13||Hicham El Guerrouj||Morocco||7 June 1999||Golden Gala|
|2||3:43.40||Noah Ngeny||Kenya||7 June 1999||Golden Gala|
|3||3:44.39||Noureddine Morceli||Algeria||5 September 1993||Rieti Meeting|
|4||3:46.32||Steve Cram||Great Britain||27 July 1985||Bislett Games|
|5||3:46.38||Daniel Komen||Kenya||28 August 1998||ISTAF Berlin|
|6||3:46.70||Vénuste Niyongabo||Burundi||28 August 1998||ISTAF Berlin|
|7||3:46.76||Saïd Aouita||Morocco||2 July 1987||Helsinki|
|8||3:46.91||Alan Webb||United States||21 July 2007||Brasschaat|
|9||3:47.28||Bernard Lagat||Kenya||29 June 2001||Golden Gala|
|10||3:47.33||Sebastian Coe||Great Britain||28 August 1981||Memorial van Damme|
|1||4:12.56||Svetlana Masterkova||Russia||14 August 1996||Weltklasse Zürich|
|2||4:15.61||Paula Ivan||Romania||10 July 1989||Nice|
|3||4:15.8||Natalya Artyomova||Soviet Union||5 August 1984||Leningrad|
|4||4:16.71||Mary Slaney||United States||21 August 1985||Weltklasse Zürich|
|5||4:17.25||Sonia O'Sullivan||Ireland||22 July 1994||Bislett Games|
|6||4:17.33||Maricica Puica||Romania||21 August 1985||Weltklasse Zürich|
|7||4:17.57||Zola Budd||Great Britain||21 August 1985||Weltklasse Zürich|
|8||4:17.75||Maryam Yusuf Jamal||Bahrain||14 September 2007||Memorial van Damme|
|9||4:18.13||Doina Melinte||Romania||14 July 1990||Bislett Games|
|10||4:18.23||Gelete Burka||Ethiopia||7 September 2008||Rieti Meeting|
- Updated 12 June 2011.
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