THIS month has seen the 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister becoming the first man to break the four-minute barrier – a feat that has since been achieved by 189 runners from this country. Nine of those have come from Essex with three from the south of the county. Essex AAA chairman DAVID STAINES looks back on our own magic milers.
THE first Essex man to break the four-minute mile barrier was Southend AC stalwart, Andy Green who ran his first four-minute mile while still a student in his native Lancashire.
As a 19-year-old he was the youngest four-minute miler at that time.
After moving to south Essex with his wife Mary, an Olympic 400m runner, he improved his time to 3m 57.74. In his early days in Essex he ran with the now defunct Hadleigh Olympiades and then Southend AC. Since then he and Mary have been a prominent part of the Southend AC set up.
Commonwealth Games 800m bronze medallist Matthew Yates, Basildon born and bred, is the fastest ever Essex miler with a time of 3m 52.75s, set in Oslo in 1993.
Many will be surprised to hear London Marathon winner and Basildon resident Eamonn Martin is also on this list. He ran 3m 59.3s in 1983 and earned his first international recognition at the mile and 1,500m before stepping up the distances.
Another Basildon AC athlete Rob Denmark achieved his best mile time in 1990, running 3m 55.38s. Denmark had a distinguished track career winning the Commonwealth Games 5,000m and a silver at the European Championships over the same distance. He now coaches Britain’s finest young middle-distance talent, Canvey’s Jessica Judd.
Barry Smith grew up in Basildon and ran for Thurrock Harriers until his mid 20s and he ran 3m 57.46s in 1980, the same year he missed out on making the final of the 5,000m at the Moscow Olympics by a frustrating one-hundreth of a second.
Best known locally of the other four Essex four-minute milers was Havering AC’s Roy Young who ran 3m 59.4 in 1971. Young was a world-class cross-country runner but unfortunately never recovered fully after being knocked over whilst out training on the road and died at a relatively young age.
Two international steeplechasers Graeme Fell and Colin Reitz also achieved the mark as did Colchester-born John Boulter.
Of the local crop of runners, only Basildon’s James Shane is capable of running a mile in under four minutes. He has never attempted the distance on the track, but his best 1,500m time equates to about 3m 54s for the four laps so he can consider himself part of the outstanding heritage of middle distance runners from south Essex.