John Walker breaks world mile record

12 August 1975

John Walker (Athletics Auckland)

John Walker became history’s first sub-3:50 miler on 12 August, recording 3 minutes 49.4 seconds at Gothenburg, Sweden. He broke the record of 3:51.0 held by his long-time rival, Tanzanian Filbert Bayi.

Former mile record holder Peter Snell argued that this was a greater achievement than Roger Bannister's first sub-four-minute mile:

Bannister achieved lasting fame when he broke four minutes and he’ll probably be always better known than Walker. But this was a far better run.

The feat shot Walker to international stardom. The attention was unlike anything he had experienced before. In his autobiography Walker commented on the expectation it produced, noting that the headlines changed to ‘Walker Fails’ the following week when he did not perform as well. The attention didn’t abate and accolades kept flowing, among them New Zealand Sportsman of the Year, Athlete of the Year (Track and Field News) and the Lonsdale Cup (awarded annually for the most outstanding performance by a New Zealander in an Olympic or Commonwealth sport).

Walker was relieved when he won gold in the 1500 m at the Montreal Olympics the following year. Unlike his world record, a medal could not be taken away from him.

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