John Landy, the second man to break the four-minute mile after arch-rival Roger Bannister, has died aged 91, with World Athletics President Sebastian Coe on Saturday saying the sport owed him “a huge debt”.
The Australian former mile and 1500m world record holder passed away at his home on Thursday, with the news announced Saturday.
Landy was renowned for his rivalry with England’s Bannister as they both sought to make history and conquer the four-minute mark.
Bannister was first, clocking 3:59.4 in Oxford on May 6, 1954. But Landy went better 46 days later in Finland with a time of 3:58.0 — a record that stood for the next three years.
“Our world is poorer without John Landy in it,” said Coe, himself a two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist.
“He lit the spark that led to the legendary chase for the four-minute mile between 1952 and 1954 and was one of the main protagonists in that quest.
“Ultimately Roger Bannister got there first but was also the first to recognise that Landy’s excellence inspired him to reach that historic landmark.”
Coe characterised their quest to breach the four-minute mile as doing “more to globalise our sport than any other event of that era”, adding that “our sport owes him a huge debt”.
Fellow Australian champion runner Cathy Freeman was among others to pay tribute, calling Landy “a giant of a man”.
“A true athlete, scholar and gentleman. Rest In Peace,” she tweeted.
The two-time Olympian will also be remembered for one of the most selfless sporting acts of the 20th century, during the mile at the 1956 Australian championships.
With about a lap and a half to go, young compatriot Ron Clarke tripped and fell.
Landy leapt over him but then turned back to help him to his feet as the field rushed past. Incredibly, Landy was still able to chase down the leaders and win.
It was voted the finest sporting moment of the century at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Gala in 1999.
“If Australia needed a role model, it is John Landy,” said Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates.
“He was a pioneer — and his rivalry with Roger Bannister, as the pair closed on the sub-four-minute mark for the mile, captured not only Australia’s imagination, but that of the world.”
In later life, Landy served as governor of Victoria state from 2001-2006.