How soon we forget our hallowed moments

The B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps will wake up the echoes where once two men ran one miraculous race that has stood for all time.

Temporary stadium in Vancouver to be built on the site of world-famous event

Wake up the echoes, indeed.

The B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League announced Tuesday they will play for a year or so in a temporary stadium that will be built on the site of one of the world's most famous sporting events.

Not that you'd know about the history from the coverage. 

Media releases, local stories and the one put out by Canadian Press all chatted on about the cost ($14.4-million), the co-tenant (Vancouver Whitecaps for their upcoming 2011 inaugural season in Major League Soccer) and the capacity (27,500, including 7,400 on benches and the rest in seats).

This move is required because BC Place stadium is having its dome removed and replaced by a retractable model in time for the 2011 Grey Cup. After that, the Lions and Whitecaps will be the regular tenants. Oh, and they'll be tearing down "Empire Fields" less than two years after they built it.


But buried in paragraph 39 of the CP story (and we're not picking on the nation's news outlet as hardly anyone else even mentioned it at all), was a little bit of history.

Apparently two guys named Roger Bannister and John Landy ran the one-mile race in under four minutes back at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1954 on this site — the event for which the original Empire Stadium was built.

It was only earth shattering, as sporting events go — a heart-stopping piece of drama that captured anyone across the globe who had the slightest interest in sport.

And there were a lot of people paying attention.

Barrier finally broken

Breaking the four-minute mile barrier had been put off because of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, but by 1954 it was all the talk, especially after a handful of men had teased the mark the two years previously.

Bannister broke it finally at Oxford University on May 6, 1954, on a cold, rainy day in front of about 3,000 fans who weren't even sure he was going to run until the wind dropped. That time of 3:59.4 has been immortalized in everything from film to coin of the British realm.

But John Landy, an Australian, waited just seven weeks to shatter a mark some uninformed commentators had suggested could not physiologically be done in the first place. He ran 3:57.9 (rounded under the rules of the time to 3:58) at a meet in Finland, in effect shattering Bannister's mark.

The most famous showdown in the world since Jesse Owens took on Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games was thus set for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, where Bannister and Landy would meet for the title of world's best miler.

Right there in Vancouver, over the berm from the Pacific National Exhibition, in the brand new Empire Stadium.

Rather than explain what happened in detail, you can watch the CBC coverage of it from the time.

WATCH NOWThe Miracle Mile

Astonishing, wasn't it? Bannister won in 3:58.8, not a world record time, but still well under four minutes, while Landy went 3:59.6. That's two men under four minutes on the same track. In Canada.

The moment you watched where Landy looked over his left shoulder just as the Englishman surged by on the right, is considered among the greatest single sports seconds of all time.

Statue drew humour

It was immortalized in a bronze statue that stood in front of Empire Stadium until the edifice was torn down in January of 1993. They moved the piece to one of the PNE entrances after that.

When Landy saw the statue for the first time, he famously quipped: "While Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back."

For reasons that continue to anger me, this country is terrible at celebrating its sports history unless that history happens to be hockey. Don't agree? Check out how hard it was for Canada's Sports Hall of Fame to find a permanent home before Calgary finally stepped up.

There is also the question of what was done to the site itself.

If the Miracle Mile had happened anywhere in Europe, tearing down the stadium where it was held would have been absolutely unthinkable. It would be a shrine.

But that's water under the Lions Gate Bridge now, but perhaps this summer, if you find yourself sitting in one of those temporary seats watching a Lions' game, you could allow yourself to think back 56 years to that day when the world watched a little port city named Vancouver.

And John Landy didn't watch Roger Bannister as he flew by to steal a piece of history from him.