The Best Ever Mile Runners - I Love Running Magazine


The Best Ever Mile Runners

by / Tuesday, 18 November 2014 / Published in Top 10
the best ever mile runners

The Best Ever Mile Runners

the best ever mile runnersThe mile has always been one of the marquee events in track and field, requiring a combination of endurance, blistering speed and tactical acumen to succeed. During the 1950s, the race to break the 4-minute mile barrier put the event on the front pages of national newspapers around the world. A few runners came close in the late 1940s and early 1950s, ultimately falling just short, and reinforcing the myth that the barrier was physically impossible to break. Then, one fine spring day in Oxford, England, Roger Bannister took to the Iffey Road track and 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds later, made history. The task of making a list of the top 5 milers in history is a difficult one – many incredible runners have tested themselves in the event over the years. The following runners are not the fastest to contest the event, but I consider them the most important. Without their contributions, to training or racing strategies or simply just participation, the event would not be where it is today. Read on to find out who is number 1!!!

#5 Kip Keino

Abebe Bikila may have been the first East African to emerge on the distance running scene with his shocking barefoot marathon with in the 1960 Rome Olympics, but it was Keino who really lead the East African ascendency in running. The Kenyan announced himself on the biggest stage of all, beating the favorite and world record holder Jim Ryun in the 1968 Mexico City Games. The win brought the idea of high altitude training to the attention of the distance running community, and Keino would go on to support countless numbers of young Kenyans using their talents in running as a means to lift themselves out of poverty.

#4 Herb Elliott

The Australian has the unique distinction of being undefeated in his career over the 1500m distance. Coached by the eccentric Percy Cerutty, Elliot dominated races in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He set the world record in both the mile and 1500m, bettering the old records by incredible margins – 2.7 seconds and 2.1 seconds respectively. Runners would come from around the world to train with him and Cerutty and leave astonished by the difficulty of the sessions. Cerutty promoted more ‘natural training’, preferring to test Elliott on sand dunes rather than the track, and promoting role models outside of the world of athletics. Elliot would add an Olympic Gold medal to his resume in Rome 1960,  then, to the surprise of the distance running world, he retired shortly after, still in the prime of his career.

#3 Jim Ryun

Perhaps the most naturally talented runner ever, the man from Wichita, Kansas was a true running prodigy. Bursting onto the international distance running scene while still a teenager, he astonishingly broke the world record for the mile just a few months after graduating from high school. He would tragically lose the 1968 Olympic final to Kip Keino, suffering in the high altitude air of Mexico City that the Kenyan was much more accustomed to. He retired very early in his career due to the stress of his intense training regimen, leaving the world to wonder what he might have been able to accomplish if he had stayed with the sport.

#2 Peter Snell

The protégé of legendary distance running coach Arthur Lydiard, New Zealander Peter Snell won back to back 1500m Olympic Gold medals in the 1960 and 1964 Games, becoming the first (and only) runner since Pavvo Nurmi in the 1920s to achieve the feat. He was known for his incredibly high mileage training, typically running more than 100 miles per week in training – distances that only marathon runners in his day were approaching. Of particular fame were his grueling 22-mile runs through the Waitakere mountain ranges bordering his hometown of Auckland. Of course, high mileage training is commonplace for milers today, and Snell can be credited for leading the way forward.

#1 Hicham El Guerrouj

The fastest ever, holding both the mile and 1500m world records, the Moroccan runner was criticized throughout much of his career for failing to win the big one – Olympic Gold. Dominant from 1993 to 2004, winning every single 1500m World Championship during that time and setting numerous world records, he faltered in both the 1996 Games, getting tripped up, and in 2000 in Sydney, losing an agonizingly close race to the Kenyan Noah Ngeny. Finally, in Athens in 2004, he captured the title he had been chasing his entire career, in a thrilling home stretch battle with archrival Bernard Lagat. Considering his decade of dominance over the distance, a constant push for faster and faster times, and Olympic Gold to round it all off, Hicham El Guerrouj, without a doubt, takes the honors of Greatest Miler.


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