Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vancouver Can Be Really Nice in the Summer

Posted By on 02.17.10 at 12:13 PM

The 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games are remembered for the Mile of the Century, aka the Miracle Mile and the Perfect Mile. It was the showdown between the only two men in the world to run a mile in less than four minutes: Roger Bannister of Great Britain and John Landy of Australia.

Bannister had broken the four-minute barrier a few weeks earlier, running the mile in 3.59.4 at a meet in Oxford, England, on May 6, 1954. His record soon fell: Landy ran a 3.57.9 on June 21 in Finland.

The two milers, who’d never run against each other, finally met on August 7 at the Empire Games. You can watch the race here. Landy led from the gun, but Bannister overtook him on the last turn and outkicked him to the tape. Sports fans around the world had been awaiting this duel, and it was everything they'd hoped for: Bannister ran a 3.58.8, Landy a 3.59.6.

I certainly haven’t watched every minute of the ongoing Winter Olympics, or read every word written about it; but I’ve seen and read plenty, without coming across a mention of the Mile of the Century. Perhaps that’s only because so much time and space has had to be devoted to the rain, fog, and 50-degree temperatures blighting these Olympics. The ’54 Empire Games were held in Vancouver, and the race between Bannister and Landy remains the supreme moment in the city’s sports history. (A bronze sculpture depicting the moment when Bannister passed Landy on the right as Landy glanced left stands at the entrance of Vancouver's Pacific National Exhibition fairgrounds.)

But perhaps it’s an inconvenient moment to recall. If you’ve idly wondered, as I have, why the hell Vancouver didn’t bid on the Summer Olympics instead, those distant Empire Games are evidence that this might have been an excellent idea.

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