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Bannister's record most significant by mile

Area runners might have a common reaction if they watch the upcoming ESPN made-for-TV movie, "Four Minutes," about Roger Bannister's breaking of the four-minute mile in 1954.

Something like, oooh, those shoes must have hurt.

The runners wore 1950s-style running shoes for the film, which debuts Oct. 6 on ESPN2. The footwear was a reminder how far we've come in that particular department in 51 years.

"Wearing those track shoes on a track that is rather firm has been the most challenging," Toronto's Kevin Smith told the Toronto Sun. "We've suffered a lot of black toes."

The producers filmed part of the movie at Birchmount Stadium in the eastern end of Toronto back in May. They altered the facility so that it looked much like the University of Oxford's Iffley track, where Bannister broke the record. The weather even cooperated, as plenty of gray skies gave the track the look of Oxford in the spring.

Bannister's accomplishment is worthy of a movie. It could be argued that Bannister's achievement wasn't the greatest moment in track during the 20th century; Jesse Owens' four world records (three broken, one shared) in one meet in 1935 and Bob Beamon's 1968 record long jump might have been greater. However, the 3:59.4 mile might be the most significant track moment of the century. The chase to go under four minutes captured the world's imagination, and track was at the peak of its popularity. By the way, the record lasted all of six weeks, broken by John Landy.

Bannister became something of track's patron saint as a result of his run -- the personification of the concept of a sound mind and a sound body. He broke the record while in medical school, and went on to a distinguished career in medicine. Bannister, credited with lifting British national morale at the time of the record, was knighted in 1975.

The movie stars Jamie MacLachlan, a British actor, as Bannister and Christopher Plummer as track coach Archie Mason.

> Measuring up

The e-mail bag was relatively full after a recent article on measuring race courses. A couple of the notes came from other measurers, and they made points as fine and exact as you'd expect from people who worry about tiny fractions of a distance of a race course:

Only USA Track & Field can actually certify a race course's distance. A measurer merely submits it for certification.

Kevin Lucas, a USATF national certifier, wrote to say that the actual margin for error is even smaller than indicated.

"The 'allowable error' or necessary comparison between the 2 required course measurements is 0.08% or 4 meters (13.13 feet) per 5 kilometers," he wrote. "The first measurement of a course is the layout measurement, the second measurement checks the initial distance established. We are required to add 0.1% back into the course while measuring as a 'short course prevention factor' -- courses are technically measured longer than the stated distance to insure they are at least the stated or advertised distance."

One of the most difficult parts of the job is the last part: getting the paperwork prepared after the measurement. It can take hours to do properly, mostly because it is difficult to draw up an accurate course map.

It's even more obvious that only perfectionists need to apply for this job.

> Not done yet

Some top area runners have a reminder to give to race directors: Their work isn't quite done when the finish line is broken down and the postrace site is cleaned up.

They need to make sure that their times are submitted to USA Track & Field. Runners need to have their performances recorded so they can be considered for potential world rankings, national awards, age-group rankings and records.

The USATF has a page on its Web site explaining the procedures involved. It's at www.usatf.org/events/results.

The group has a November deadline for 2005 races. Last year, five of Henry Sypniewski's races weren't submitted in time, which cost him in his efforts to be ranked first in the country in his age group.

> Upcoming races

Linda Yalem Memorial Run (Buffalo News Runner of the Year Race), 5K, Alumni Arena at UB in Amherst, 9:30 a.m. today, 645-2055.

St. Mary's School for the Deaf 5K Run, 2253 Main St. in Buffalo, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 895-1175.

Autumn Challenge, 5K, Sprague Brook Park in Glenwood, 10 a.m. Saturday, 574-0888.

2nd Brigade 10K Run, Amherst Pepsi Center, 10 a.m. Saturday, 822-0790.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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