Friday, January 8, 2010

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb - Great Book!

I just read the wonderful book The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, and highly recommend it.  As a long-time runner fascinated by the sport I was captivated by the dramatic competition between Roger Bannister, John Landy and Wes Santee. 

Though these three runners were widely geographically dispersed (England, Australia, and the United States) each closely watched the other's running accomplishments, and the resulting competition clearly accelerated Roger Bannister's achievement in first crossing the - previously thought impossible - four-minute-mile barrier.

While most readers will know the outcome of this tale before reading it, Bascomb is able to create and maintain a fair amount of suspense by allowing the reader to experience events leading up to the 1954 Empire Games showdown from these three individuals very different perspectives.

Roger Bannister impressed me most fundamentally, as the thinking man's runner, with a classic middle distance long stride and finishing kick, as well as insights into the scientific principles that underlie cardiovascular exertion. Amazingly, during the time period of Bannister's accomplishment he his time spent training was severely limited owing to his demanding medical studies that severely limited his training time.

John Landy, the workhorse of the trio, logged more miles and brought his single-minded focus to the task. But, lacking the closing speed and power of the classic milers, he was forced run the legs out of his competitors from the front.

Meanwhile, Wes Santee, the least famous and accomplished of the three, might have been the most talented. However, the demands of his University of Kansas track schedule, military commitments, and confrontations with track and field's governing body were impediments that proved too difficult to overcome.

The best part of this book was the fact that these three men pursued this historic goal with none of the spoils of today's professional athletes, so each of them was motivated by the simple ideal of achieving the impossible.

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