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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, May 5th, 2004


 

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

by Neal Bascomb

A review by Adrienne Miller

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. Roger Bannister, John Landy and Wes Santee all competed in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, each failing to perform as well as he had hoped. Afterward, each man embarked on a new quest: to beat the elusive four-minute mile, which was considered impossible. Their personalities were as different as their training styles: Bannister was a gentlemanly English medical student, Landy a monolithically willful Aussie, and Santee an impetuous boy from Kansas. Bannister's approach to training was, unlike the other two, both intellectual and scientific. In 1953, for example, he prepared two papers with the following heavy-duty titles: "The Carbon Dioxide Stimulus to Breathing in Severe Exercise" and "The Effects on the Respiration and Performance During Exercise of Adding Oxygen to the Inspired Air." 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.


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