John Landy Dies at 91; Dueled Roger Bannister in ‘Mile of the Century’

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Above all, Landy was a sportsman, as exemplified in a startling moment in the 1956 Australian track and field championships in Melbourne, just before the Olympics there.

Landy had entered the race hoping to break the world record for the mile. But with the race underway, a 19-year-old competitor, Ron Clarke, was bumped only strides ahead of him and fell to the track. Landy leapt over him and, as he did, accidentally spiked him on his right shoulder. Landy stopped, ran back to Clarke, brushed cinders from Clarke’s knees and said, “Sorry.”

“Keep going,” Clarke said. “I’m all right.”

Clarke got up, and he and Landy started after the others, who by then were 60 yards ahead. Landy caught them and won in 4:04.2.

Gordon Moyes, an Australian minister who was there, later called it “the most incredibly stupid, beautiful, foolish, gentlemanly act I have ever seen.”

In the Olympics that year, Landy was the favorite in the 1,500 meters. Before the final, he saw that Ron Delany, a young Irishman who attended Villanova University, was nervous. Landy calmed him down and said, “I think you can win this one, Ron.”

Delany did. Landy took the bronze medal.

John Michael Landy was born on April 12, 1930, in Melbourne. As a youth, he seemed more interested in collecting butterflies than in running. But in 1948, at 18, he won the Australian private school mile championship in 4:43.8. That same year Bannister, a year older, ran 4:11.0.

Landy was selected for the Australian team in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, but he had to pay his own way. He was eliminated in his preliminary heat when he finished fifth. (Bannister finished third in the same heat.)

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