The Race of the Century: The Battle to Break the Four-Minute Mile

Scholastic Focus. Jun. 2022. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338628463.
Gr 6-8–Once considered foolhardy or even dangerous to attempt, running a mile in under four minutes became a subject of peculiar fascination in the world of sports during the 1950s. In this adaptation for young readers of his 2005 bestseller The Perfect Mile, Bascomb sketches the intense competition by focusing on the three amateur runners considered most likely to achieve it. Wes Santee was a University of Kansas undergrad and later a Marine Corps recruit. Australian John Landy, also a full-time college student, was known for training late at night, after finishing with classwork and studying. But it’s English medical student Roger Bannister, under immense pressure following a poor performance in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, who two years later smashed the barrier in an event at Oxford University. Though the narrative at times bogs down in detailed descriptions of track conditions, split times, and one-off mentions of other runners, Bascomb keeps the excitement high as the three main subjects face injuries, illness, drama in their personal lives, and at times taxing relationships with demanding coaches. Fascinating digressions examine topics like the history of running as a sport, advances in training and technique, and the legacy of speed records. With text unbroken by sidebars and few illustrations, the book is suited to stronger readers. The volume closes with a lengthy bibliography, detailed source notes, and a comprehensive index.
VERDICT Amply researched, dramatically told, and an inspiring tribute to amateur sports, this work is highly recommended for libraries serving middle and upper elementary students.

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