Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Prefontaine Classic Flashback: 20 Runners Demolish Four-Minute Mile

Posted on April 11, 2011 by Rojo Grande

(Zimbio) Not many pleasures in life surpass a good distance race at Eugene's Hayward Field.

You’ve got to be fast.

Opportunities to sneak past the giant and steal his goods are rare…and brief.

So when this giant—normally a vigilant guardian of his treasury—carelessly nodded off for 40 winks, 40 feet scampered past him to loot his vaults of their sacred bounty.

And fast those 40 feet were.

It happened just last year—July 3, 2010 at the Prefontaine Classic (Diamond League) international track meet in Eugene, Oregon. Such an elite field of middle distance runners had been assembled that two separate runnings of the one-mile race had to be staged.

The mile run has remained an iconic race through the decades (in spite of the metric measuring system) simply by virtue of its famous four-minute barrier. Though hundreds of runners have dipped beneath that barrier since Roger Bannister’s epic christening in 1954, to accomplish a sub-4:00 mile is still considered a lofty goal and a worthy feat.

In that sense, the four-minute mile continues to loom as a stingy, hulking giant.

Oh, it’s not all that unusual these days for two, maybe three raiders to pilfer from the giant a few token gold coins. But an entire platoon—in one day, at one location—ransacking his storehouse?

Yes, in two waves they came: Gregson, Acosta, van Deventer.

Torrence, Kithii, van der Westhuizen.

Pifer, Brown, Mansoor Ali and Rupp,  early in the meet in the International Mile.

And then, in the meet’s finale, the Bowerman Mile: Kiprop, Laalou, Gebremedhin.

Komen, Wheating, Kiptanui Kemboi.

Lamong, Moustaoui, Lagat and Keiteny.

When the dust had settled, 20 men, benefiting from the giant’s little catnap, had overrun his lair and demolished his barrier.


Asbel Kiprop, of Kenya, won the Bowerman in 3:49.75. The 10th-place finishers in both races produced times well under 3:58.

In any other venue, with a gathering of such runners, it is still doubtful the magnitude of that one-two assault on the four-minute mile could have occurred. It is widely known that the Pre Classic and the mile run have a unique mutual affinity.

Add to that the legendary Hayward magic (and perhaps a bit of genius on the part of meet director Tom Jordan) and it becomes evident it could only have happened in Eugene.

The legacy of Steve Prefontaine lives on, in the huge meet named in his honor.

There have only been a handful of races at the Pre Classic where 11, 12, even 13 runners have finished under the the four-minute mark in a single mile race.

But never before have 20 conquered that barrier in the same meet.

And that aging and shrinking giant, still stinging from last year’s pillage—with his treasury severely depleted—will not be of a mind to ever let it happen again.

2011 Prefontaine Classic – Saturday, June 4. Entry lists have not yet been released. Tickets on sale now at TV coverage on NBC at 11:00 am Pacific

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