Taylor: The miracle of the ‘Miracle Mile’

Lake Country columnist Jim Taylor recalls the miracle mile

By Jim Taylor

Early this month, news came that Roger Bannister had died. I turned 18 the year Roger Bannister became the first human to run a mile in less than four minutes. A mile — a quaint anachronism consisting of 5,280 feet, each containing 12 inches. Remember those funny dimensions? Only the U.S. still uses them, although it has long given up other measures of the mile – eight furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods…

Back in 1954, though, the mile was still a standard measure. We measured fuel efficiency in miles per gallon, speeds in miles per hour. And the four-minute mile was still considered impossible for mere humans. Banister was a medical student at Oxford who would later be knighted for his work on neurology. He took up running as a hobby. Some tributes say that he only trained for about half an hour a week – a ridiculously low figure for today’s athletes. But Banister had one thing going for him that no other athlete did – he refused to be trapped by conventional wisdom. Until then, the mile was seen as a distance race. One trained for it by running longer distances. Milers tried to conserve their energy. In interviews later, Banister explained that he saw the mile as an extended sprint. Instead of saving his energy, he planned to expend it totally, to cross the finish line with absolutely no reserves left. The first time he broke the four-minute barrier, he collapsed. Later that summer, Banister and his rival John Landy of Australia met in what was called the Miracle Mile in the British Empire Games in Vancouver. (Like the mile, time has rendered the name of the Games obsolete; they’re now called the Commonwealth Games.)

I was in the far west of Ireland that August night. To mark my graduation from high school, my parents had taken me to experience what was still called the British Isles, and to meet my mother’s family.

My uncle had rented a fishing lodge in Connemara for our two families. In 1954, it still had no electricity. And Vancouver was eight time zones away. So when the Miracle Mile was run in Vancouver in the afternoon of August 7, eight of us clustered around a table in the kitchen of a pitch-dark house, lit by the glow of a single kerosene lantern, ears tuned to a battery-operated radio. We were rooting for Banister. Landy led for four laps. In the final turn before the finish line, Landy risked glancing back over his left shoulder to see how much of a lead he had. Perhaps it affected his stride, perhaps it affected only his concentration. But in that moment, Banister surged past on Landy’s right and won the race of the century.

Our kitchen erupted. Two families not normally given to expressing emotions danced, hugged, and cheered. It seems so long ago now. Of the eight people present that night, only three of us are still alive. And now the cause of those memories has died too. But I won’t forget that moment, listening to a race on the other side of the world. And I won’t forget the man who had the courage to think outside the box, and to change the world of running forever.

Author Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: rewrite@shaw.ca

Just Posted

B.C. candidate moves from hospice care to council race

He beat terminal cancer twice and entered hospice when he decided to run for council.

Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal MP acclaimed for his party’s nomination

Stephen Fuhr runs unopposed as the party’s standard-bearer for the next federal election

Kelowna Fire Department to handle Vernon, OKIB dispatch

Five-year contract will net Kelowna more than $200,000 says fire chief

Kelowna overdoses prevented with supervised consumption site

Supervised Consumption Services helping people avoid overdose and receive health services

B.C. candidate moves from hospice care to council race

He beat terminal cancer twice and entered hospice when he decided to run for council.

Ministry of Agriculture commits $300,000 to help B.C. farmers obtain land

B.C. Land Matching Program supports access to affordable farmland for young farmers

Canadian air force short 275 pilots

Attrition outpaces recruitment and training claims Air Force

Teacher suspended after physically shushing, saying ‘shut up’ to student

Grade 5 student reported feeling ‘confused and a little scared’

High spirits after first week of classes at Shuswap’s outdoor school

South Canoe School is taking student learning into the great outdoors

A B.C. society helps to reforest Crown land after wildfires

Forest Enhancement Society of BC focuses on wildfire mitigation and the reforestation

B.C. marijuana workers may face U.S. border scrutiny

Cannabis still illegal federally south of the border

Symphony giants launch 59th Okanagan Symphony Orchestra season

Concerts in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon Sept. 21-23

Over 60 cats and kittens surrendered to the South Okanagan-Similkameen SPCA

The surrender is part of an ongoing animal cruelty investigation with BC SPCA Special Constable

Most Read