Australian Was Right There With Roger Bannister

John Landy once turned back to help a competitor who'd fallen
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 26, 2022 1:30 PM CST
John Landy Pushed Bannister Toward 4-Minute Mile
Australian athlete John Landy runs with the queen's baton during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Melbourne in 2006.   (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

John Landy, an Australian runner who dueled with Roger Bannister to be the first person to run a four-minute mile, has died. He was 91. Landy's family on Saturday said the former athlete, who also became governor of Australia's Victoria state, died at his home in Castlemaine after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, the AP reports. "Dad passed away peacefully on Thursday surrounded by what he loved most: his family and the Australian bush," Landy's son Matthew said. The runner "lit the spark that led to the legendary chase for the four-minute mile," said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, adding, "Ultimately Roger Bannister got there first but was also the first to recognize that Landy's excellence inspired him to reach that historic landmark."

Landy took up competitive running to get fit to play Australian rules football, only becoming serious about it in 1951. Later, he made world headlines as he vied with Englishman Bannister to become the first man to break the four-minute mile. Bannister was the first to achieve the feat, in a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds at Oxford, England, on May 6, 1954. Less than two months later, in Finland, Landy improved on Bannister's world record when he ran the mile in 3:57.90. Those two times preceded the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver, where the world’s two fastest milers met face-to-face in a showdown billed as the Race of the Century. Bannister won and soon after retired to become a neurologist.

In the Australian Mile Championship in 1956, Landy was in a strong position when Ron Clarke tripped and fell in front of him with a lap and a half to go. Landy leaped over Clarke and then turned back to help his rival to his feet, losing valuable seconds. Landy began running again and circled the field to win the race that assured him a place in Australia's Olympic team. Landy never made a big deal of the gesture. "I ran down his arm with my spikes when I was jumping over him," he later said. "That’s why I went back. A lot of people seemed to think it was the most significant thing I ever did in running. It wasn't." Landy won bronze in the 1,500 at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He went on to work in agricultural science. John Coates, Australian Olympic Committee president, said, "If Australia needed a role model, it is John Landy."

(Read more obituary stories.)

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