In the 58 years since Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mark in the mile, more than a thousand men have accomplished the feat, and yet it has remained an elusive goal in Utah.
Utah has been home to world-class runners and several national-class competitions, but the thinner mountain air and the rarity of mile races — the mile has been replaced by 1,600 meters in high school and 1,500 meters in college — have conspired to make the sub-four nearly impossible in the state.
Only one man has managed to do it. In 1983, Doug Padilla, a professional runner and BYU graduate who would run in two Olympics Games, ran 3:57.23 in Provo.
Since then, BYU, Weber State and Southern Utah have produced sub-four milers, but none of them did it in Utah.
Miles Batty hopes to change that. A senior at BYU, he will try to make his last home meet memorable at Saturday's Clarence Robison Invitational in Provo with a race against the clock. Batty, the 2011 NCAA indoor mile champion who set the collegiate indoor record of 3:54.54 earlier this year, seems up to the task.
"I figured I might as well give it a shot," says Batty, a Jordan High graduate whose best time in high school was 4:22.
Batty originally planned merely to run a qualifying time for the NCAA championships until his coach, Ed Eyestone, suggested an attack on four minutes.
"I don't know if he's ready to get 3:57 or not, but it fits well into his schedule," says Eyestone. "This will be his first hard mile outdoors."
The attempt will be paced by Kyle Perry, a former NCAA steeplechase champion from Alta High and a member of the Sub-Four Club, as well. The plan is for Perry to pace Batty for 1,000 to 1,200 meters, sending Batty through 1,200 meters (three laps) in 2:58 or 2:59.
"From there it just depends on how he's feeling," says Eyestone. "He's always been able to finish strong."
"I'll be on a four-minute pace and see what I have at the end," says Batty.
The mile distance — and the sub-four performance — have still retained their magic. Recently, the International Olympic Committee decided to include the mile in the Olympics, effective this summer in London, replacing the 1,500-meter run, the distance that has been used since the Games' inception in 1896.
The goal of every middle-distance runner is to break four minutes in the mile. Henry Marsh, the former BYU All-American, made four Olympic teams in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and set several American records, but he was thrilled to run a 3:59 mile overseas near the end of his career. Perry pursued and accomplished the feat several years ago in Washington. Padilla was one of the world's top 5,000-meter runners, but he occasionally attacked the sub-four mile, his best being 3:54.
Some of the world's best milers tried and failed to break four minutes in Utah. In 1975, Paul Cummings, BYU's defending NCAA mile champion, ran a 4:01.0 mile in Cougar Stadium. Two weeks later, BYU hosted the NCAA Track and Field Championships, and Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan won the mile with a time of 4:00.06, missing the sub-four by hundredths of a second. Coghlan would go on to run 75 sub-four miles in his career, including one when he was 40, and set an indoor world record, but not even he could break four minutes in Utah. He came through the half-mile in 2:02 and three-quarters of a mile in 3:03. He closed with a 57-second last lap but it wasn't enough.
In 1983, Padilla was talking to a sports writer about the public's lack of interest in track when the writer suggested that he announce an attempt on the sub-four in Provo. With a crowd in the stands and TV cameras on the infield, Padilla, paced by Marsh, crushed the four-minute barrier.
"We worked hard," recalls Padilla. "I pushed it. I didn't know if I was going to make it. As it turned out, I had seconds to spare. It took a significant effort, I know that."
Padilla is now in charge of track and field operations at BYU, and he immediately endorsed Batty's plan for Saturday.
"Padilla was enthusiastic about (Batty's) sub-four attempt," says Eyestone.
On Saturday, no one will know more than Padilla about the challenge that Batty faces.
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