On a windy day in Oxford, England, one man and one distance were elevated to a level of fame previously unattained by any track athlete. In 1954, when Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes, the world was inspired to achieve the impossible and "The Mile" gained a romantic luster that remains to this day.
Then the sport changed -- in the 1980s high school state federations switched from the mile to the 1600- or 1500-meter races. New tracks were 400 meters instead of the usual 440 yards, so the change was out of convenience. Today, high school athletes in only one state, Massachusetts, still run the Mile in competition.
One group has begun to push back against the switch and fight for what they call "America's Distance." Bring Back the Mile was formed last fall and has been gaining traction this year, launching its website in January and garnering support around the nation. Its founder, Ryan Lamppa, is the media director for Running USA and has always been a fan of the Mile.
"I'm online a fair amount and I do searches for articles about the marathon and road races and the like -- and I just started to really notice that, other than the marathon, there were countless articles on the Mile," he said. "The Mile really still has a place in America."
It was the romance of the Mile that caused Lamppa to create BBTM, and he firmly believes in this race's importance to the sport.
"The one thing that I did know, and I think most Americans know if they think about it, is that the mile is embedded in our culture in so many ways, in that we think, speak and relate in miles," he said.
"For some reason, our country has held onto the mile as a measurement distance, where 95 percent of the world is metric."
The goals of BBTM are more than what is apparent from the organization's title. It is true that the main objective is to have high school federations change back to the Mile and 2-Mile races; but the hope is that the movement will bring more attention to the sport in general.
"Our sport does need a promotion and more coverage outside of the running world," Lamppa said. "The journalists that aren't in this sport also get this campaign. It makes sense."
With articles about the movement in both Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press, BBTM is getting the boost it needs. It has already gained the support of athletes such as Jim Ryun, Don Bowden and Steve Scott; and groups such as Road Runners Club of America and the American Running Association.
Despite the nationwide switch, Massachusetts was the one state to hold onto the Mile for its high school athletes, with one man to thank: Bob McIntyre, a member of the state's Track Coaches Association who successfully defended the Mile. All other track events in the Bay State are measured in meters except for the Mile and 2-Mile.
In an article written by Duncan Larkin for the BBTM website, Frank Mooney of the Massachusetts Track Coaches Association admits that there is little pressure to switch to meters. When other New England states come to compete in Massachusetts there are occasional complaints, but conversion charts are used for seeding purposes for athletes from those states, so the push back is at a minimum.
Lamppa said that McIntyre had vision that officials in the 49 other states lacked.
"That guy should be bronzed, because that guy saw the bigger picture," he said.
Fans of the Mile can join BBTM's "I Am the Mile" movement, and many have sent in photos and personal stories about their most memorable mile. These "Mile Maniacs" were able to enter an essay contest that ended June 1 about their mile memories.
The winner, David Cannon, wrote of the last time his old track coach watched him run, during the New York Continental 5th Avenue Mile, over 30 years after he graduated high school. Cannon ends "The Last Mile" with the heart-felt line: "It was the last day I would see Coach alive, and it was the best mile I ever ran."
It is these memories and emotions that BBTM hopes to bring to the forefront of discussion about the Mile, and many supporters have done so. The website has an ever-growing section for photos of fans holding signs declaring "I Am the Mile."
When records in the 1600-meter race are broken, it goes largely unnoticed, Lamppa said. But when runners achieve new records for the Mile, the international community recognizes the achievement. He cites the moment when Alan Webb defeated Jim Ryun's 36-year-old high school record.
"That was an international story, and I'm going to say that if he had run the 1600, that would not have been an international story," he said. "Outside of America and outside of high school, the 1600-meter doesn't exist."
Lamppa gives the reason for this phenomenon in two words: Roger Bannister.
"Roger Bannister being the first man to break four minutes -- that was such an historic achievement that to this day, it still resonates," he said.
So much so that in 2005, a group of various Olympic champions and journalists gathered by Forbes magazine called Bannister's record the all-time greatest athletic achievement.
"For 30 years, the vast majority of high school runners -- boys and girls -- they are and were denied the chance to run the mile," Lamppa said.
If he and the team at BBTM get their way, high school athletes, one state at a time, may soon have the chance to follow in the footsteps of the track's most revered runner.