John Landy, an Australian runner who dueled Roger Bannister to be the first person to run a four-minute mile,…
John Landy, an Australian runner who dueled Roger Bannister to be the first person to run a four-minute mile, has died. He was 91 years old.
Landy’s family said on Saturday that the former athlete, who also became governor of the Australian state of Victoria, died at his home in Castlemaine after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“Dad passed away peacefully on Thursday surrounded by what he loved most: his family and the Australian bush,” Landy’s son Matthew Landy said. “He was a wonderful father, a loving husband and we feel privileged to have been a part of his remarkable life.”
Landy started running competitively to help prepare him to play Australian rules football, only getting serious about it after competing on a national athletics team in 1951.
Later, he was to make world headlines as he vied with England’s Bannister to become the first man to run less than four minutes for the mile.
Bannister was the first to achieve the feat, clocking 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds in Oxford, England on May 6, 1954. Less than two months later, in Finland, Landy improved the world record of Bannister when he ran the mile in 3:57.90.
Both times preceded the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver where Landy and Bannister, the two fastest runners in the world, met face to face in a showdown dubbed the Race of the Century. The Englishman won and soon after retired to become a neurologist.
At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Landy was the favorite to win the “metric mile”, the 1,500 meters. But it was as the Games approached that Landy earned his place in Australian sporting history.
Racing in the Australian Mile Championship in 1956, Landy was in a strong position when fellow athlete Ron Clarke stumbled and fell ahead of him with around a lap and a half to go.
Landy jumped over Clarke then turned to help his rival up, a move that cost him precious seconds and around 50 yards. After checking on Clarke, he started running again and raced around the field to win the race that secured him a spot on the Australian Olympic team.
Landy never made much of the gesture, describing it as “that silly run when I came back to Ron Clarke”.
“I reacted on the spur of the moment,” Landy told the Australian Associated Press. “I ran down his arm with my spikes when I jumped on him. That’s why I went back. A lot of people seemed to think it was the most important thing I ever did. in running. This was not the case.
Landy won bronze in the 1500m at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, finishing third behind Ron Delany of Ireland and Klaus Richtzenhain of Germany.
World Athletics chairman Sebastian Coe said in a statement that Landy was one of the great pioneers of the golden age of middle distance in the 1950s.
“He ignited the spark that led to the legendary four-minute mile chase between 1952 and 1954 and was one of the main protagonists in that quest,” said Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters. “In the end, Roger Bannister came first, but was also the first to recognize that Landy’s excellence inspired him to achieve this historic landmark.”
Landy then worked in agricultural sciences, a subject he studied at the University of Melbourne, and held various positions in sports and community organizations.
In 2001 he became Governor of Victoria – representing British royalty in the state – a position he held for five years.
Australian Olympic Committee chairman John Coates said: “If Australia needed a role model, it’s John Landy.”
“His rivalry with Roger Bannister, as the pair edged closer to the sub-four minute mark for the mile, captured not just the imagination of Australia, but of the world.”
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