Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb

The running of a four minute mile was once thought impossible, according to Neal Bascomb in his sports history The Perfect Mile. Some newspaper columnists and officials of amateur athletics organizations argued that the laws of physics would not allow a human to ever run that fast. Of course, their science was very bad.

As of 2004 when Bascomb published The Perfect Mile, over 1000 runners have broken the four minute barrier. Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco is the current record-holder with his 3:43:13 time in a race in Rome in 1999. Few people remember when the four minute mile was newsworthy. With few people knowing the names Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee, the author saw the opportunity to tell a great story that would keep readers to the end wondering the outcome.

Bascomb blends the stories of the three runners well, taking the readers from England to Kansas and to Australia to meet the men, and then to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver. Added to the mix are the stories of the struggle between men who wanted to keep amateur athletics untouched by professionalism and the promoters who saw opportunities for careers and profits. Readers will also learn about the world of newspaper reporting and early history of televised sports.

The Perfect Mile is a heroic story that should appeal to men and women alike, as it is as much about character as it is sports. The audiobook read by Nelson Runger is especially good for listening while commuting.

Bascomb, Neal. The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. ISBN 0618391126

12 compact discs. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004. ISBN 1402583745

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