06/04/2014 07:31 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:59 EDT

Jerome Classic offers athletes are rare chance to run one-mile race

VANCOUVER - Doug Clement has no trouble remembering where he was on Aug. 7, 1954.

Then 21 years old, Clement was at the Empire Games at the since-demolished Empire Stadium in Vancouver when two runners, England's Roger Bannister and Australia's John Landy, broke the four-minute barrier in the same one-mile race for the first time, a feat which has since become known as the Miracle Mile.

"I'd been to the Olympic Games in 1952 as an 18-year-old," Clement said. "So I'd been to a big event before. But this being your hometown, it was like the Olympics being here. You can't believe this is happening right here. It was a crazy thing in 2010 (during the Winter Olympics.) It was a crazy thing then. The whole city suddenly embraced the sport and the British Empire Games, so it was beyond that race. It was still a huge deal even without that race. But that race was an historic thing."

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Miracle Mile.

Clement, who won a silver medal as part of Canada's 4x400-yard men's relay team at those Empire Games, now co-ordinates the annual Harry Jerome Track Classic in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, B.C. Although the mile is rarely run anymore, he says he felt compelled to hold one-mile events for both men and women during this year's Jerome to pay tribute to the Miracle Mile.

"It's such an important part of the history of track and field, the history of Vancouver and the history of Canada," said Clement, 80, following a news conference Wednesday to promote the Jerome. "We just can't overlook it."

Prior to the Empire Games, Bannister became the first runner to go under four minutes in May 1954 in Oxford, England, and Landy broke four minutes in Turku, Finland 46 days later. The 60th anniversaries of those occasions are also being feted this year, adding to the Jerome's motivation to honour the Miracle Mile.

"It's sort of like (American) President (John F.) Kennedy dying," Clement said. "Everybody remembers where they were when that news (of Bannister's first sub-four-minute mile) came out. It was a huge thing, and then to have the two men who broke that right here in Vancouver, it was like a no-brainer. We're going to have a big event here (this year)."

Surprisingly, he said, the 60th anniversary of the Miracle Mile has generated more "cachet" than the 50th anniversary did, perhaps because Bannister and Landy are both still alive and more time has passed. Organizers hope to bring Bannister and Landy to Vancouver for the Jerome.

The field for the men's Miracle Mile anniversary races and other events have yet to be finalized, but early confirmed entries in the men's mile include Luc Bruchet, 23, of White Rock, B.C.

"Hopefully, I can continue the tradition and break the four-minute mile just like the guys did back in (1954)," he said.

Bruchet, who focuses on the 5,000-metre race, is competing full-time this season after completing his career with the University of B.C. Thunderbirds. He won a mile race at a University of Washington indoor race over the winter.

"It's a little different now that they run the 1,500 in the Olympics and the world championships … but it's so similar to the 1,500 that you usually run (the mile) as close to as fast," he said. "We don't get an opportunity to run this as much as we used to in the past. But it's exciting. Any time you lace up the spikes to run a mile, you're trying to get under four minutes. … I think you'll almost see the whole field under four (minutes). I think it's going to go below 3:50.00, so it'll be a very exciting race to watch for all the fans."

Athletes from 15 countries are expected to compete in the event that for Canadian athletes and possibly others, will serve as a tune-up for this year's Commonwealth Games (formerly known as the Empire Games) in Glasgow.

Jessica Smith, an 800-metre specialist who was among 50 athletes named to the Canada's Commonwealth Games team Wednesday, will use the Jerome as a prelude to Glasgow.

"The Jerome is going to be in the middle of the month, so it gives me an opportunity to just challenge and see where I'm at in my training and bring another competition into my schedule," said Smith, a 24-year-old North Vancouver, B.C., native.

"So it's a great time for me to be able to race and then head off, hopefully, to Europe and run a good time over there and represent Canada."

Smith hopes the 2014 Jerome will help her get under two minutes, as she did at the 2012 event while qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

"It's going to bring a number of international athletes up here, which is great for competition," she said.

Notes: Total prize money is $150,000. … Olympic shot putter Dylan Armstrong won't compete at the Jerome, one of his favourite events, due to an elbow injury. … The Jerome event is named after late former Olympian Harry Jerome. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jerome's 100-metre bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games. … Unlike in past years, the 2014 Jerome will be held on a Thursday night. It's usually held on Canada Day, but scheduling issues in relation to other major events, including the Canadian championships in Moncton, N.B., at the end of June, prompted a move on the calendar.