Dedicated to all runners and non-runners...
You’ve probably never heard of 90 year old John Landy but give me a minute and his story could change the way you view the world.
John spent 21 years working in agricultural research for Imperial Chemical Industries Australia Ltd, including the last 11 years as Research and Development Manager.
He married Lynne in 1971 and they went on to have two children, Matthew, and Alison.
On the 1st of January 2001, at the grand old age of 70, John was sworn in as the 26th Governor of the state of Victoria in Australia. An impressive achievement but this is not the reason you should know John.
John Landy and his granddaughter Neve.
You should know John because he is the second man to run a mile in under 4 minutes, the first was of course, Sir Roger Bannister.
On the 6th of May 1954, just after 6pm, Sir Roger Bannister ran a mile at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford in a world record time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.
(Until that fateful day, ‘informed observers’ thought the sub 4 minute mile was an unachievable fantasy. They confidently proclaimed to anyone who would listen that it wasn’t just dangerous for the human body to run a 4 minute mile, they knew it was impossible.
Legend held, they said, that people had been trying to break the 4 minute mile for all of human history and it was impossible. Some people in attempting it had even tied bulls behind them to increase their ‘incentive’ to break the barrier and every single one had failed.
In many ways it is understandable why the experts thought it was impossible, although perhaps someone should have whispered in their ears that human beings flying had also been thought impossible, until a couple of brothers in the bicycle repair and sales business did the impossible in 1903.)
A few days later, on the 21st of June 1954 in fact, John Landy improved on Sir Roger Bannister’s time for the mile, winning a race in Turku, Finland with a new world record time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds.
So way does this make John worth knowing?
Roger Bannister had been assisted by pace setters during his race and this had led to some people attempting to discredit his amazing achievement. Something Eliud Kipchoge, who recently became the first person to run a marathon in under 2 hours, can no doubt sympathise with.
John was questioned about the ‘legitimacy’ of Roger Bannister’s achievement in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in 2004 and this was his beautiful response;
“First of all, you’ve got to think the thing was done. The four-minute mile had been run. You couldn’t undo it, right. The four-minute mile had been run, however it had been run….My attitude was that if it’s a bona fide run, and said to be by the authorities, that’s it. And that’s what happened and I have never ever, nor would I ever, doubt that it was a wonderful effort.”
Roger Bannister and John Landy at the Iffley Road track on the 50th anniversary of the four minute mile 6th of May 2004
John Landy is worth knowing because it is easy for us to put the ‘First’ on pedestal, to hold them up as the exception that proves the rule, or somehow claim they are not like the rest of us, they are special, superhuman even…
It takes the second to break the rule and show us the feat is truly possible. The pioneers prove something can be done but the 'Second' leads the way for everyone else.
However, the second, and primary reason I think you should know about John Landy, is the character he showed in the 1500 metre race of the 1956 Australian National Championships.
The race was going to plan until the third lap when one of his main rivals, Ron Clarke, who at the time was the 1500 metre junior world champion, got in a tangle and fell over badly.
John could have run on, safe in the knowledge that there was one less rival to beat.
Instead he stopped to make sure Ron was OK and back on his feet and when he was sure, carried on chasing the leading pack who were now more than 30 metres ahead of him.
Ron Clarke falls in front of John Landy, who stops to help him.
What followed was arguably an even more impressive race than his mile record run as he chased down the leading pack and sprinted past them one by one to win the race comfortably in the end.
John Landy is worth knowing because he is an example of a life well lived and in particular, proof that we can do the right thing and still win in life.
John Landy says to us all that winning is important and that pioneers deserve all our admiration and gratitude but even more important perhaps, is the courage to take on their baton and build on their example. In a sense to stand on the shoulders of giants for the good of all.
Whatever you are doing today Mr Landy, I hope you have a smile on your face and thank you for leading the way.