Roger Bannister and Diane Leather Charles, who respectively became the first man to run the mile in under four minutes and the first woman to break the five-minute barrier for the distance, were among the honourees at the ‘World Athletics Heritage Mile Night’ in Monaco on Thursday (21).
The event, hosted by World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, brought together more than a dozen of history’s greatest milers, including eight of the last 10 living men’s outdoor world record holders.
Bannister and Leather Charles, who both achieved their barrier-breaking performances in May 1954, were recognised in the posthumous ‘Legend’ category. Bannister’s daughters, Erin Bannister-Townsend and Charlotte Bannister-Parker, and Leather Charles’s daughter, Lindsey Armstrong, attended the event to accept the awards on their parents’ behalf.
During the celebration, Coe also announced eight recipients of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque, six of which were related to the mile.
The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is a location-based recognition which highlights, celebrates and links together iconic and historic athletics competitions, careers, performances, cities, venues, landmarks and culture around the world. The plaque is awarded for an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of athletics.
Four world famous mile races and their host meetings were recognised in the ‘Competition’ category.
The UK’s Emsley Carr Mile (various venues) was founded in 1953 in the memory of Sir William Carr, a former editor of the News of the World, to help inspire a successful sub-4 mile attempt. Hicham El Guerrouj’s 3:45.96 run in 2000 is the current race record.
New York’s Millrose Games (1908) is the world’s oldest indoor meeting. Millrose’s headline event is the Wanamaker Mile (1926) which has seen six wins by Glenn Cunningham in the 1930s, seven by Eamonn Coghlan in the 1970s and 1980s and eight by Bernard Lagat in the 2000s.
The Oslo Bislett Games was founded in 1924 but its modern history began under Arne Haukvik’s direction in 1965. Its marquee attraction is the Dream Mile (1976) which has seen three world records, one each from Britain’s Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram.
Eugene’s Prefontaine Classic (1975) and the Bowerman Mile (1975) was recognised in two categories, ‘Competition’ and ‘Legend’, given its history has been successfully driven by the memory of Oregon’s 24-year-old Steve Prefontaine who died in a car crash in 1975.
The seventh plaque recipient was Brussels’ Memorial Van Damme (1977) which was also honoured across the categories of ‘Competition’ and ‘Legend’ for equally tragic reasons. The meeting was created to honour the memory of Belgium’s 22-year-old Ivo Van Damme, whose life was lost in a car crash in December 1976, just months’ after he won 800m and 1500m silver medals at the Montreal Olympic Games.
The eighth plaque recognised the Indoor Meeting Karlsruhe, Germany. Established in 1985, two of the current women’s world indoor records were set in the southeastern German city, Genzebe Dibaba at 1500m in 2014 and Susanna Kallur at 60m hurdles in 2008.
Pictured above from L-R: Ron Delany, Michel Jazy, Erin Bannister-Townsend (daughter of Roger Bannister), Jim Ryun, Lindsey Armstrong (daughter of Diane Leather Charles), Filbert Bayi, Gabriella Dorio, Paola Pigni, John Walker, Charlotte Bannister-Parker (daughter of Roger Bannister), Steve Cram, Noureddine Morceli, Abdi Bile, Hicham El Guerrouj, Kipchoge Keino, Eamonn Coghlan and Sebastian Coe.