The 1,500 meters may be more en vogue, but last night in Pentagon City the plain old mile was the celebrated distance. More than 300 people came together at the Ritz-Carlton to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first sub-four-minute mile by honoring 17 renowned milers.
Among those honored by the American Running Association were Alan Webb, the U.S. high school record holder (South Lakes) and Olympic 1,500 hopeful; Don Bowden, the first American to break four minutes; and Doris Brown Heritage, the first American woman and second woman in the world to run a sub-5:00 mile.
"It's extremely flattering," said Webb, who set the record in 2001 with a time of 3:53.43. "A lot of people in this room were former world record holders. All of them are sub-four-minute milers, and when those guys ran a sub-four-minute mile, a sub-four-minute mile was a big deal. . . . It makes me feel like I'm part of the club."
Many of the milers were meeting each other for the first time. Bowden, who ran his sub-4:00 mile in 1957, looked forward to seeing Wes Santee, the miler he admired when he was in high school in San Jose. Santee, of Wichita, was a contemporary of Britain's Roger Bannister, and many expected him to be the first to break four minutes until Bannister's historic 3:59.4 on May 6, 1954.
"I always had so much respect for [Santee]," Bowden said. "This is the first time I've met a lot of these people because I'm older. Everybody ran in different eras."
Although Bannister's feat remains one of the most prestigious accomplishments in sports, the 1,500 meters has replaced the mile at many major meets, including the Olympics and world championships.
"I wish that track would get back to running more miles because I think that would help track," Bowden said. "People respond to [the mile]."
Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field and a sub-4:00 miler himself, believes the mile continues to thrive in the metric world.
"I think the mile is alive and well, respected and understood," Masback said. "There is no middle distance runner in any country in the world who doesn't know his national record in the mile and doesn't aspire to hold it. . . . Everybody who runs, no matter what distance whether they run a 5K or a 10K or a marathon, they know what it takes to run a mile."
-- Kathy Orton