Athletics: Morceli inhabits different world

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ROGER BANNISTER'S 1954 mile record of 3min 59.4sec would have left him well over 200 yards behind the current holder of the record, Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, who ran 3:44.39 in Rieti last year. That is one measure of the progression which has been made over the last 40 years, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Morceli inhabits a different world to that in which Bannister competed: shale tracks have been replaced by artificial surfaces, shoe technology and harder training, much of it at altitude, have transformed the expectations of today's middle-distance runner. But the underlying question of human limitation was one which was considered by seven world mile record holders, including Bannister and Morceli, who are assembling this week to mark the 40th anniversary of the four-minute mile.

Herb Elliott said whoever had declared the four-minute mile to be impossible should be thanked. 'Without that person, whoever it was,' he said, 'we would not be gathered here today.'

The question of what now constituted the impossible in terms of the mile record received intelligent first-hand attention. 'I don't think we will see a 3:30 mile in my lifetime,' said Jim Ryun, who ran 3:51.1 in 1967. Bannister also saw 3:30 as the ultimate mark attainable without genetic experimentation. 'For it to happen, perhaps in the early part of next century, we would have to have a period of peace in the world and for populations such as the Indian and Chinese to produce the genetic variety of mind and body to reach towards that time.'

Peter Snell could not see the mile record coming down any further than its present level - a comment which caused raised eyebrows from Morceli, who believes he can knock off another couple of seconds. 'This is the guy,' Snell said. 'I think he's had the last shot at the record.'

Elliott stood out from the others in seeing undreamt of improvements. 'I believe there will be a quantum leap somewhere in the equation,' he said. 'I don't think we yet understand fully about the interface between the mind and the body.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- MILESTONES ----------------------------------------------------------------- 3:59.4 Roger Bannister (GB) 1954 Oxford 3:58.0 John Landy (Aus) 1954 Turku 3:57.2 Derek Ibbotson (GB) 1957 London 3:54.5 Herb Elliott (Aus) 1958 Dublin 3:54.4 Peter Snell (NZ) 1962 Wanganui 3:54.1 Snell 1964 Auckland 3:53.6 Michel Jazy (Fr) 1965 Rennes 3:51.3 Jim Ryun (US) 1966 Berkeley 3:51.1 Ryun 1967 Bakersfield 3:51.0 Filbert Bayi (Tan) 1975 Kingston 3:49.4 John Walker (NZ) 1975 Gothenburg 3:49.0 Sebastian Coe (GB) 1979 Oslo 3:48.8 Steve Ovett (GB) 1980 Oslo 3:48.5 Coe 1981 Zurich 3:48.4 Ovett 1981 Koblenz 3:47.3 Coe 1981 Brussels 3:46.3 Steve Cram (GB) 1985 Oslo 3.44.3 Noureddine Morceli (Alg) 1993 Rieti -----------------------------------------------------------------

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