The world record for the Men’s Mile has managed to stand the test of time for over two decades now, but who holds the title and how did we get to the current record?
The singular mile is often considered to be one of the QUICKER events within the track and field contingent.
For many years, however, it went unrecorded. That is until the mid-1800s when track and field started to enter its infancy.
How Has The Mile Run World Record Evolved?
A mile distance run has NEVER been an Olympic or World Championship event.
The mile retains the title of being the only non-metric race distance for which the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recognizes a world record.
Accurate timings for the mile run distance have been recorded since 1850.
This coincided with the time when the first precisely measured running tracks were created.
The popularity of the mile run as a track and field event was accelerated during the 1930s when news coverage of the sport increased.
This led to the emergence of mile and Olympic runner stars such as Jack Lovelock, Glenn Cunningham, and Jules Ladoumegue.
The Original Records
The original recorded time for the middle-distance run belonged to the British runner Charles Westhall with a time of 4:28 in July 1855.
This record was set before the formation of the IAAF. It belongs to a subsection of the records that is dedicated to the track and field events that took place before the Federation existed.
During this pre-IAAF era, the record in the professional category fell from the original 4:28 to 4:12:75 in 1886. Time was set by Walter George, another British runner (the record lasted for almost 30 years).
Within the amateur category in the pre-IAAF era, the record fell from 4:55 set by Briton J. Heaviside in 1861 to 4:15:40 set by American John Paul Jones in 1911.
All of the mile records set in the pre-IAAF era, bar John Paul Jones’s 1911 record, were completed by British runners.
IAAF was formed on July 17, 1912, in Stockholm, Sweden, in order to maintain consistent athletics standards worldwide.
The first record from the IAAF era was 4:14.4 as John Paul Jones, USA, improved his previous record on 31 May 1913.
By the 1940s, the record for the mile run had fallen to just above 4 minutes (4:01.4, Gunder Hägg, Sweden, in 1945).
Swedes Arne Andersson and Gunder Hägg improved the time six times in succession in the 40s (starting from 4:06.2. in 1942).
The 4-Minute Mile
On the 6th of May 1954, Roger Bannister of Great Britain ran the first sub-4-minute mile with a time of 3:59:4. There were two pace-setters to provide pacing for a run.
Conventional wisdom at that time said a person couldn’t run a mile in under 4 minutes.
Medical student Bannister developed his own training regimen that involved undertaking short, intense workouts which he credited his record with. Nowadays, we would probably refer to Bannister’s methods as a HIIT workout.
While Bannister was the first runner to hold the record for a sub-4-minute mile, he only managed to hold it for just over 6 weeks. In June 1954, Australian John Landy broke the record by a hair’s breadth with a time of 3:58:00.
The Australian and Briton had been vying to be the first to break the sub-4-minute mark.
After their separate record-breaking runs, the two raced directly against each other over a mile. They recorded the respective times of 3:59:6 and 3:58:8. It was the first time that two runners had beaten 4 minutes in the same race.
Breaking Sub 4 Minutes
Over the next 20 years, after the 4-minute barrier was broken, the world record time fell gradually, year on year.
Athletes were managing to chip away at the time that was possible to reach, improving on the previous record by times of between 0.1 seconds and up to 1.5 seconds.
- Peter Snell, New Zealand, made it to 3:54.4 in 1962 and 3:54.1 in 1964.
- 1966 and 1967 were the years for Jim Ryan, USA. First, he set the new world record time of 3:51.3, and in the next year, 3:51.1.
In 1975, the New Zealander John Walker was the first athlete to break the sub 3:50 mark with a time of 3:49:4, beating the previous record by 1.6 seconds.
Not content with being the first runner to break the 3:50 mark over a mile, John Walker went on to become the first man to complete 100 sub-4-minute miles.
After John Walker managed to break the 3:50 barrier in 1975, the record for the men’s mile time dropped over the next 24 years.
Britons Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett battled it out for the record, leap-frogging each other year on year to beat the previous one.
- 1979 Coe (3:49.0)
- 1980 Ovett (3:48.8)
- 1981 Coe (3:48.53)
- 1981 Ovett (3:48.40)
- 1981 Coe (3:47.33)
From 1979 to 1985 one of only 3 British runners held the world record for the Men’s mile. It looked like Britain would hold on to the record for the foreseeable as Steve Cram set the record to 3:46.32 in 1985.
However, in 1993, Algerian runner Noureddine Morceli took the mark from Steve Cram, beating his time by almost 2 seconds with a time of 3:44:39.
Morceli managed to hold the best time for over 5 years, with seemingly no one able to beat his time.
In July 1999, Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj managed to beat the long-standing record of Morceli by almost a second, recording a time of 3:43:13.
El Guerrouj has held this world record for over 20 years.
He also held the fastest men’s mile on an indoor track between 1997 and 2019 with a time of 3:48:45.
That really cemented his status as one of the fastest track and field runners of all time.
Yomif Kejelcha, Ethiopia, beat his mile run indoor track time at 3:47.01 in 2019.
The mile record has remained the same for over 20 years, suggesting a PLATEAU in athletics and physical ability.
With the record held for such a long period of time, it will take an incredible athlete to break the time and potentially top a sub 3:40 mile.