On This Day

  • August 7 down the years

Bannister beats his Aussie rival

Roger Bannister won 'The Mile of the Century' © Getty Images
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1954
One of the great duels in track and field came to a head today. Earlier that year, Roger Bannister (born March 23 1929) broke the four-minute barrier in the mile (May 6). In June, John Landy of Australia shattered that world record by running 3 minutes 58 seconds. The final of the Empire (later Commonwealth) Games would be a kind of decider. It posed the classic question: could Landy's regular pace burn off Bannister's sprint finish? Near the end, Landy had a look to see if it had. Off the last bend, he glanced inside to look behind - at the same moment that Bannister came past on the outside. It's one of the classic photos, and there's a statue of that very moment outside the stadium in Vancouver. Bannister sprinted away to win by five yards in 3 minutes 58.8, the second-fastest time until then. He won the European title later that month before retiring. Landy won bronze in the 1500 in front of his home crowd at the 1956 Olympics. He might have given Bannister a closer race in 1954 if he hadn't had four stitches in his foot: he cut it on a photographer's flashbulb the day before!

But despite that epic mile, the day was remembered for the end of another event. One of the most harrowing moments in track and field. In June that year, England's Jim Peters had set his fourth consecutive world record in the Marathon. But in the 1952 Olympics, he'd exhausted himself by trying to run the sting out of Emil Zátopek ( July 27). In the Empire Games race today, he did the same - only more so. Horribly more so. When he entered the stadium, he had a lead of 17 minutes. But he'd been running at his normal pace - in roasting heat that demanded something slower. The sight of the world record holder weaving across the track, collapsing time and again, and crawling towards the finish line, made terrible viewing. Officials were condemned for letting the spectacle go on, but Peters had such a big lead that they tried to give him time to recover. Eventually, after eleven minutes in which he covered only 200 yards, the England team masseur Mick Mayes helped him off the track. Peters didn't regain consciousness until the next day and was in hospital for a week. England's other runner Stan Cox suffered caught heatstroke and ran into a post with two miles to go. Joe McGhee of Scotland won in a time only just under 2 hours 40 minutes, way below Peters's standards but appropriate for the conditions. He'd even stopped for a rest at one point. Only six runners finished the race and Jim Peters never ran another one.

2004
Marc Cécillon shot his wife dead at a party. A big tough back-row forward capped 46 times by France at rugby union, he scored tries in consecutive games against the All Blacks in 1989 before playing in the 1991 and 1995 World Cups. But tonight 20 years of alcohol caught up with the 'quiet man' of French rugby. He arrived drunk at a function where he was guest of honour, and shot his wife Chantal four times. They'd been married for 27 years, since she was 17, but Cecillon had had too much drink and too many affairs. An appeal reduced his sentence to 14 years. French rugby players and handguns, ay? Another international lost a game of Russian roulette in 1993 (July 10).

Jonathan Edwards improved his personal best by 54 centimetres © Getty Images
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1995
Britain's Jonathan Edwards (born May 10, 1966) set two world records in a day. After years as a moderate triple jumper, he suddenly improved his pre-1995 personal best by 54 centimetres to break the ten-year-old world record (July 18). Then today at the World Championships in Gothenburg, he soared into the stratosphere, landing the first legal 18-metre jumps in history: 18.16 followed by the 18.29 that still stands.

2007
Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run to break the iconic record set by Hank Aaron in 1976. Bonds hit the record run for the San Francisco Giants off San Diego Padres pitcher Clay Hensley. But the feat will always be shadowed by claims of steroid use. Bonds's trainer was one of the defendants in the BALCO drug trial, and Bonds himself was indicted for perjury in the case.

1992
Gasp in surprise as Boris Becker wins something on clay. He never won a singles title on the surface, but today he teamed up with another big server Michael Stich to take gold in the doubles at the Olympic Games. They had to win two tie-breaks to win the final in four sets against the ordinary South Africans Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval.

Germany didn't have it all their own way on those courts. In the final of the women's singles, 16-year-old American Jennifer Capriati shocked defending champion Steffi Graf after losing the first set. Graf, brittle as so often, lost the third set 6-4 after dropping the last three games of the match.

1877
Ulrich Salchow was born in Copenhagen but represented Sweden at ice skating. Represented better than anyone else. He was the first of only three skaters to win ten world titles, taking the men's individual title for the first time in 1901 and the last ten years later. He would have been champion 11 times if he'd entered in 1906. He was the inaugural Olympic Games champion in 1908, and a jump named after him is still in the repertoire.

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