"The 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver changed both the city and world sport forever." Caitlin Press Inc.
Jason Beck, curator and facility director of British Columbia's Sports Hall of Fame shares why he wanted to publish a book on the "The Miracle Mile" which is a riveting account of the 1954 British Empire Games in Vancouver.
Here is our Q&A:
What made you decide to write the book?
I'd written a little about the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games previously, but new stories and real anecdotal gems kept finding me through my work at the BC Sports Hall of Fame, even when I wasn't really looking for them. I began mentally noting some of these and after awhile I realized there was a collection of stories here that no one had really looked at in their entirety. People had written loads on the Miracle Mile race and a bit on Jim Peters' marathon collapse, but not much beyond that. I thought I could add my brick to the wall of British Columbian and Canadian sport history with this book. So in 2006,
I began dedicated research in archives around B.C. and interviewed over 80 athletes, coaches, and spectators from around the world. It took ten years of at times exhausting work, but I'm so proud with how it's turned out. People have told me it's not just good history, but a good read, a page-turner. That was my goal as a historian and writer from the beginning.
How much do people know about the significance of The Miracle Mile?
I think many Canadians, particularly sports fans or sport history buffs, will at least be vaguely familiar with the basic storyline of the mile race between England's Roger Bannister and Australia's John Landy -- the first two men in history to run the mile in under four minutes - that became celebrated as the 'Miracle Mile,' but I don't think many know the details or just how big this race was in the world of 1954. It was certainly one of the biggest sports stories of 1954 and probably of the entire 1950s decade, and when I went through hundreds of newspapers around the world, for the days following August 7, 1954, it was arguably one of the biggest NEWS stories in the world. I would argue that's never happened in Vancouver's history before or since and is certainly rare for any Canadian city at any time. The media focus on this one race was incredible. The lead feature story in the first issue of Sports Illustrated was the Miracle Mile. Hundreds of millions of people around the world tuned in on television and radio. Many bought their first black-and-white television just to watch this race!
Which other events from the '54 Games do you highlight in The Miracle Mile?
Beyond the key players in the Miracle Mile, the other key figure is English world record holder in the marathon, Jim Peters, who tragically collapsed just yards short of the finish line, unbelievably less than thirty minutes after the Miracle Mile. Spectators went from this incredible, exhilarating high of the Mile to the gut-wrenching, courageous drama of watching the world's best marathoner literally run himself to the brink of death. It was a roller-coaster afternoon that day in Empire Stadium for the 35,000 on hand to say the least.
The biggest upset and perhaps the most exciting story few know today is the amazing victory of the Canadian rowing eights crew, who were just a bunch of green UBC students who defeated an English crew from the world's biggest rowing club. There are stories on the complex figure of Canada's Doug Hepburn, then the world's strongest weightlifter. Australia's Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, the fastest woman in history at that time, ran the final race of her career in Vancouver. A Nigerian high jumper named Emmanuel Ifeajuna won gold in Vancouver and later masterminded a coup in his home country that led to a civil war.
Canadian shot putter Jackie MacDonald from Toronto was compared to Marilyn Monroe by the media of the day and was punished by amateur officials for being photographed holding a bottle of Orange Crush soda. Two of the world's fastest swimmers of the day, Australia's Jon Henricks and Lorraine Crapp, tore up the pool. Prince Philip drew massive crowds wherever he went attending the Games, the first time the English monarchy attended. I could go on, these Games had a little of everything.
The Miracle Mile is available here.
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