- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

Elite miler Scott Anderson asked a simple question late last week following the American Running Association’s Honors Gala.

“Where else can you find nobody in line for a drink at the bar but a huge line of people waiting to get an autographed book about some sub-four-minute milers?” Anderson said.

The gala, held at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City on Wednesday night, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s record breaking 3:58.8 mile. Credit ARA Executive Director Dave Watt for packing the program with some of the world’s greatest four-lappers.

Wes Santee, Jim Bailey and Don Bowden from the ‘50s; Kip Keino, Jim Beatty and Doris Brown Heritage from the ‘60s; Dick Buerkle and Craig Masback from the ‘70s; Marcus O’Sullivan, Joaquim Cruz, Francie Larrieu Smith and Ray Flynn from the ‘80s, and the present and future of the sport, Alan Webb.

The night began with some depressing statistics about America’s obesity epidemic from Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and then an award was presented to Rhonda Snyder for the nurse’s successful work maintaining fitness among the disabled children in her elementary school class.

Following those presentations, each world-class miler talked briefly about his/her career.

It was one of the most fascinating events I ever attended. I just sat there and listened to story after story of some of the world’s greatest athletes and most down-to-earth people.

The crowd was particularly amused with stories from Beatty and Bailey. Beatty, the first person to break four minutes on an indoor track in 1962, recounted an embarrassing moment he had at a USA vs. USSR meet in Moscow.

Knowing his Los Angeles Track Club teammate Jim Grelle had the better kick, Beatty took the lead early and held it through three of the four laps. As he was coming out of the corner and into the backstretch with Grelle on his back, his mind had a lapse: was this the final lap or the third lap? In a quandary, Beatty continued to contemplate what to do: sprint home and hope it was the gun lap or wait?

Beatty knew if he sprinted and it turned out he was only on Lap 3, he would be too exhausted to complete another lap. But if he waited, and it was the last lap, Grelle would outkick him to the finish.

As Beatty rounded the last corner, with less than 200 meters to go, he looked back over his right shoulder at Grelle, and said: “Jim, are we on the final lap?” Grelle, of course pretty surprised that Beatty would be talking to him at that point in the race, asked Beatty to repeat the question. Beatty did.

Grelle confirmed they were on the gun lap, at which point Beatty darted away to victory.

Beatty had the gala crowd in stitches.

Not to be outdone, Bailey — the first American under four minutes and now in his 70s — told the crowd his favorite part of track and field was watching the women sprinters in the “set” position in the blocks.

Webb, the youngest of the speakers, paid tribute to Sir Roger himself, who would have been the keynote speaker if he had he not recently canceled all traveling. Webb told the audience that running a sub-four today is much easier than it was 50 years ago.

For Webb, the timing of the gala could not have been better. Struggling for the past two years, the Reston native finally shut up even his harshest critics when he uncorked a giant performance at the Home Depot meet last weekend, earning an Olympic “A” qualifier with the No.2 time in the world in the 1,500 meters this year with a 3:35.71.

He explained that Bannister would train for just an hour a day, with his schedule of medical school and other obligations. Webb, on the other hand, trains for two to three hours a day and more.

“I don’t think I could have broken four minutes training for just one hour a day,” he said.

The master of ceremonies was Nelson Farris, director of Corporate Education for Nike. Farris, who looks like a cross between Lakers coach Phil Jackson and comedian Martin Mull, kept the evening entertaining with his comical quips, some part of the program, some off the cuff and others accidental.

And Anderson, as well as every attendee, walked away with a copy of “The Perfect Mile,” about three athletes, including Sir Roger, in pursuit of the first sub-four.

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