The sub four minute mile has been one of our sport’s holy grails. The 1300 men who have broken the mark are most respected in the U.S. and GBR. At Oregon, Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger developed many. Lindsay Rossmiller, writing for RunBlogRun, wrote about the Sub 4 Reunion held on Friday night, May 28. Here is her story.
Oregon’s Original Sub-Four Minute Milers Reminisced Before Prefontaine Classic
By: Lindsay Rossmiller
Prior to the only U.S. stop on the IAAF Diamond League in the western hemisphere, a group of former athletes familiar with Hayward Field met a block away from the Prefontaine Classic. Nine men who ran sub-four minute miles from 1956-1970 for the University of Oregon had a reunion and the Oregon Track Club invited the public to attend.
Jm Bailey (3:58.6, 1956), Keith Forman (3:58.3, 1962), Jim Grelle (3:59.9-1962), Archie San Romani (3:57.6, 1964), Roscoe Divine (3:59.1, 1966), Wade Bell (5:39.8, 1966), Arne Kvalheim (3:59.4, 1967), Dave Wilson (3:56.2, 1967) and Steve Savage (3:58.2, 1970) all broke the four minute mile barrier under famed Oregon coach Bill Bowerman. Eleven of his runners would break the barrier, including Dyrol Burleson (3:58.6, 1960) who couldn’t attend for health reasons, and Steve Prefontaine (3:57.4, 1970).
On Friday, friends, families, teammates, and the community were in attendance to hear their stories and see for themselves men who belong to a club more exclusive than those who have climbed Mount Everest. They greeted old teammates, signed autographs, and generally reveled in the occasion while the first floor of the Jaqua Center on the University of Oregon campus was full of people asking questions and asking for autographs.
When the time came for the program and not everyone could see, organizers suggested the idea of moving the men to the second level of the open air lobby, but it was quickly met by protests that some could no longer climb the stairs.
Current Oregon Track Club Elite members Andrew Wheating and Tom Farrell emceed and prompted each with questions. They told stories, shared memories, and still included some ribbing amongst each other.
“I thought [Jim Grelle] would do it before I did. I’m surprised it took him so long,” said Keith Forman. (Grelle broke it April 28, 1962. Forman was May 26, 1962.)
Wade Bell described having a photo on his wall of Dyrol Burleson defeating Stanford’s Ernie Cunliffe in the first sub-four mile at Hayward Field. He explained that, “the reason I even came here was to run a sub-four minute mile.” Bell said he still has that photo.
Wilborn agreed that the ultimate goal and reason for milers to attend Oregon was to break that barrier. Two sets of them set world records in the 4xMile relay and six were eventual Olympians.
“I had some of the best milers in the world as my teammates,” said Wilborn.
Arne Kvalheim was the best in Northern Europe before coming to the U.S.. The Norwegian joked about coming to Oregon only to find he had at least three teammates that were better than him.
Jim Bailey, the oldest of the group and will turn 87 this week, still has his Australian accent. He admits, “I had a lot of attention at University, and then went on into oblivion.” Bailey was the first person to run below four minutes on American soil and the crowd appreciated his description of exactly what happened during his race when no one expected him to beat his countryman, John Landy.
To be part of this group, is something special. Over the years, they have stayed in touch and periodically gathered as a full group. All together in a group, they still act like teammates. They have stayed connected and know each other’s families.
Connor Divine, Roscoe Divine’s son, said, “It’s nice to see the guys.” He’s grown up with them and even refers to Kvalheim like an uncle.
And while they come from different eras, they are still connected by their achievements, their coach and their alma matter.
“I feel a connection to anyone who’s ever come to Oregon and run for Oregon,” said Wilborn speaking to Wheating, a 2010 alum and also a sub-four miler.
Steve Savage explained, “[the sub-four mile] is something you have on your resumÃ© for the rest of your life.”