Synopses & Reviews
There was a time when running the mile in four minutes was the elusive holy grail, believed to be beyond the limits of human speed. In 1952, after suffering defeat at the Helsinki Olympics, three world-class runners set out individually to break that barrier. Roger Bannister was a young English medical student who epitomized the ideal of the amateur driven not just by winning but by the nobility of the pursuit. John Landy was the privileged son of a genteel Australian family, who as a boy preferred butterfly collecting to running but who trained relentlessly in an almost spiritual attempt to achieve this singular task. Then there was Wes Santee, the swaggering American, a Kansas farm boy who was a natural athlete and who believed he was just plain better than everybody else.
Santee was the first to throw down the gauntlet in what would become a three-way race of body, heart, and soul. Each young man endured thousands of hours of training, bore the weight of his nation's expectations on his shoulders, and still dared to push his very limits. Their collective quest captivated the world and stole headlines from the Korean War, the atomic race, and such legendary figures as Edmund Hillary, Willie Mays, Native Dancer, and Ben Hogan. Who would be the first to achieve the unachievable? And who among them would be the best when they went head to head?
In the tradition of Seabiscuit and Chariots of Fire, Neal Bascomb delivers a breathtaking story of unlikely heroes and leaves us with a lasting portrait of the twilight years of the golden age of sport.
"The attempt by three men in the 1950s to become the first to run the mile in less than four minutes is a classic 20th-century sports story. Bascomb's excellent account captures all of the human drama and competitive excitement of this legendary racing event. It helps that the story and its characters are so engaging to begin with. The three rivals span the globe: England's Roger Bannister, who combines the rigors of athletic training with the 'grueling life of a medical student'; Australia's John Landy, 'driven by a demand to push himself to the limit'; and Wes Santee from the U.S., a brilliant strategic runner who became the 'victim' of the '[h]ypocrisy and unchecked power' of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Although Bannister broke the record before Landy, Landy soon broke Bannister's record, and the climax of the book is a long and superb account of the race between the two men at the Empire Games in Vancouver on August 7, 1954. Bascomb provides the essential details of this 'Dream Race' which was heard over the radio by 100 million people while Santee, who may have been able to beat both of them, was forced by AAU restrictions to participate only as a broadcast announcer. Bascomb definitively shows how this perfect race not only was a 'defining moment in the history of the mile and of sport as well,' but also how it reveals 'a sporting world in transition' from amateurism to professionalism. (Apr.) Forecast: With Bascomb's narrative skills, it's no surprise that movie rights have already been optioned and by the team behind the Seabiscuit film." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] rare literary win. In finding the right balance of humanity and a sense of immediacy along each training run and at every record attempt, Bascomb has penned a sports tribute book that transcends the genre." Oregonian
"It was Bannister...who won the race to crack the four-minute wall. How he did so is a dramatic story, and Bascomb tells it well." Washington Post
"Where Bascomb's meticulous approach and evocative style pay dividends is in his sketching of the backgrounds of the three runners." New York Times
"This is an engaging tale that features detailed notes for each chapter, plus...black-and-white photos." Library Journal
"In the extraordinary tale of three long-distance runners who sought to break the four-minute-mile, Neal Bascomb constructs a narrative that's so exhaustively researched it reads like a piece of detective work....Bascomb has written a tremendously absorbing human drama that will put you in awe of these men, and leave you longing for the pre-steroids era, when resolve and steely will were all that mattered." Adrienne Miller, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
In the tradition of Seabiscuit, Bascomb delivers a breathtaking story of unlikely heroes and leaves readers with a lasting portrait of the twilight years of the golden age of sport.
For fans of The Perfect Mile and Born to Run, a riveting, three-pronged narrative about the golden era of running in America—the 1970s—as seen through the fascinating lives and careers of running greats, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar.
About the Author
Neal Bascomb is the author of Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and The Making of a City. A former editor and journalist, he has appeared in documentaries on A&E and the History Channel. Foreign rights to The Perfect Mile have been sold in Britain and Japan, and motion picture rights have been optioned by Universal, Spyglass, and Kennedy-Marshall, the team behind the movie Seabiscuit.
Table of Contents
contents prologue ix part i A REASON TO RUN ~ 1 part ii THE BARRIER ~ 69 part iii THE PERFECT MILE ~ 195 epilogue 256 Authorand#8217;s Note 273 Acknowledgments 275 Notes 277 Index 307