Spoiler alert* Roger Bannister got to the four minute mile first, and I’m assuming you know that if you’ve been alive the last 60 yrs or so. I assume Bascomb also knew that you’d know the outcome before he even started this book and that was his challenge. How to make common knowledge into a bit of a nail biter? How to mimic the feelings of watching an actual race? Bascomb manages to do just that, and to recreate an era of sports before ‘doping’ and big money endorsements.
Before Roger Bannister managed to break the four minute barrier, many people thought it couldn’t be done. Bascomb spends a little time discussing the history of competitive running, and how the mile distance began to be timed in the first place. Those unfamiliar with running lore will appreciate the history lesson, and for those familiar with the stories it works as a refresher course. Bascomb then focuses on three separate athletes, from three different continents who were working toward the goal. Roger Bannister the British runner, John Landy the Australian (who I wish would have won), and Wes Santee the kid from Kansas who began running as a means to escape the personal turmoil of an unfortunate home life. Bascombe writes about their individual histories, their training, and how they met each other on the field of competition. Bascombe also manages to capture what the press were saying at the time which makes this non fiction feel fresh and current. The reader is pulled into the story as though it is happening today.
One aspect of Bascomb’s research that sets this book apart is a focus on how ‘amateur’ athletes were treated in each country and the various difficulties or selective treatment each athlete received as a result. Bascomb’s research was truly all encompassing. He used many first person sources (my favorite in a book of this nature) which enables the reader to gain insight about specific motivations of the key characters that would otherwise be lost. As a runner I enjoyed this book. As a reader I enjoyed this book. And as a history buff I recommend this book.