In the sport of athletics, a four-minute mile means completing a mile run (1,760 yards, or 1,609.344 metres) in less than four minutes. It was first achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister in 3:59.4. The "four-minute barrier" has since been broken by over 1,400 male athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners. In the last 50 years the mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds, and currently stands at 3:43.13. Running a mile in four minutes translates to a speed of 15 miles per hour (24.14 km/h, or 2:29.13 per kilometre, or 14.91 seconds per 100 metres). It also equals 22 feet per second (1,320 feet per minute).
Breaking the four-minute barrier was first achieved on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University's Iffley Road Track, by Englishman Roger Bannister, with the help of fellow-runners Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher as pacemakers.
Two months later, during the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games hosted in Vancouver, B.C., two competing runners, Australia's John Landy and Bannister, ran the distance of one mile in under four minutes. The race's end is memorialised in a photo, and later a statue, of the two, with Landy looking over his left shoulder, just as Bannister is passing him on the right. Landy thus lost the race. The statue was placed in front of the Pacific National Exhibition entrance plaza.
New Zealand's John Walker, who with a 3:49.4 performance in August 1975 became the first man to run the mile under 3:50, ran 135 sub-four-minute miles during his career (during which he was the first person to run over 100 sub-four-minute miles), and American Steve Scott has run the most sub-four-minute miles, with 136. Algeria's Noureddine Morceli was the first under 3:45. Currently, the mile record is held by Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj, who ran a time of 3:43.13 in Rome in 1999.
In 1964, America's Jim Ryun became the first high-school runner to break four minutes for the mile, running 3:59.0 as a junior and a then American record 3:55.3 as a senior in 1965. Tim Danielson (1966) and Marty Liquori (1967) also came in under four minutes, but Ryun's high-school record stood until Alan Webb ran 3:53.43 in 2001. Ten years later, in 2011, Lukas Verzbicas became the fifth high-schooler under four minutes. In 2015, Matthew Maton and Grant Fisher became the sixth and seventh high-schoolers to break four minutes, both running 3:59.38 about a month apart. Webb was the first high schooler to run sub-4 indoors, running 3:59.86 in early 2001. On 6 February 2016, Andrew Hunter significantly improved upon Webb's mark, running 3:58.25 on the same New York Armory track and 3:57.81 two weeks later. Hunter achieved the 4 minute mile mark outdoors later in the season at the Prefontaine Classic. At that same meet Michael Slagowski ran his second sub-4 minute of the season. Reed Brown dipped under the barrier on 1 June 2017, running the 4th fastest high school mile time ever recorded in a race: 3:59.30.
Another illustration of the progression of performance in the men's mile is that, in 1994, forty years after Bannister's breaking of the barrier, the Irish runner Eamonn Coghlan became the first man over the age of 40 to run a sub-four-minute mile. Because Coghlan surpassed the mark indoors and before the IAAF validated indoor performances as being eligible for outdoor records, World Masters Athletics still had not recognised a sub-4-minute-mile performance as a record in the M40 division. Many elite athletes made the attempts to extend their careers beyond age 40 to challenge that mark. Over 18 years after Coghlan, that was finally achieved by UK's Anthony Whiteman, running 3:58.79 on 2 June 2012.
In 1997, Daniel Komen of Kenya ran two miles in less than eight minutes, doubling up on Bannister's accomplishment. He did it again in February 1998, falling just 0.3 seconds behind his previous performance of 7:58.61. He is still the only individual to accomplish the feat.
The youngest runner to ever run a four-minute mile is Norwegian runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:58.07 at the Prefontaine Classic in May 2017, when he was 16 years and 250 days old. However indoor world champion Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia, born August 1st of 1997, ran 4:57.74 in an indoor 2000 m race on February 28, 2014 at age 16 years and 212 days. The run averages to a pace of 3:59.58 per mile for the 1.24-mile race.
Possible other claims
James Parrott (1770)
Some sources (including Olympic medalist Peter Radford) contend the first successful four-minute mile was run in London by James Parrott on 9 May 1770. Parrott's route began on Goswell Road, before turning down Old Street, finishing at St Leonard's, Shoreditch. Although timing methods at this time were – following the invention of the chronometer by John Harrison – accurate enough to measure the four minutes correctly, the record is not recognised by modern sporting bodies. Neal Bascomb notes in The Perfect Mile that "even nineteenth-century historians cast a skeptical eye on the account."
The Weller Run (1796)
Then in 1796, the Sporting Magazine reported that on 10 October of that year a young man called Weller, one of three brothers, "undertook for a wager of three guineas (about 5 months' pay at that time) to run one mile on the Banbury road, in four minutes, which he performed two seconds within the time."
In other words, the magazine reports that he ran a mile in three minutes, fifty eight seconds. By that time, a mile could be routinely measured to within a few inches; watches, thanks to John Harrison, could measure 4 minutes to within 0.0009 sec (i.e. gain or lose 10 seconds a month), and after about 1750 the mass production of highly accurate watches was well underway.
Glenn Cunningham (1920s)
In popular culture
In 1988, the ABC and the BBC co-produced The Four Minute Mile, a miniseries dramatisation of the race to the four-minute mile, featuring Richard Huw as Bannister and Nique Needles as John Landy (who was simultaneously pursuing the milestone). It was written by David Williamson and directed by Jim Goddard.
In 2004, Neal Bascomb wrote a book entitled The Perfect Mile about Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee, portraying their individual attempts to break the four-minute mile and the context of the sport of mile racing. A second film version (entitled Four Minutes) was made in 2005, starring Jamie Maclachlan as Bannister.
In July 2016 the BBC broadcast the documentary Bannister: Everest on the Track, The Roger Bannister Story with firsthand interviews from Bannister and various other figures on the first sub-4 minute mile.
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- Official website for documentary – Franz Stampfl: The Man Behind the Miracle Mile – a film about the coach behind Bannister's successful mile record attempt