Sixty years ago today, Roger Bannister became the first man to run faster than four minutes for the mile. Yes, it was great (as all world records are). But why is it still celebrated six decades later when there are countless other athletics performances that are far superior?

I wish I knew. I’ve blogged about this before, but no one has yet been able to give me a good answer.

I’m not going to go on about it again, but to try to put a 3:59.99 mile in perspective, I’ve compared it to performances in other athletics events by using the IAAF scoring tables.

Compiled by the esteemed father-and-son statistician duo Bojidar and Attila Spiriev, a vast amount of historical data has been analysed in order to create the IAAF scoring tables, which offers a points system with which to compare performances across different athletics events.

A 3:59.99 mile is worth 1075 points on the IAAF scoring tables, which translates to the following performances in all of the other standard individual athletics events:

EventMarkYear, athleteMarkYear, athlete
100m10.401932, Eddie Tolan11.591952, Marjorie Jackson
200m20.951936, Jesse Owens23.601952, Marjorie Jackson
400m46.551932, Bill Carr53.351962, Shin Geum-Dan
800m1:48.311939, Rudolf Harbig2:04.501960, Lyudmila Shevtsova
1500m3:42.391954, John Landy4:16.761967, Maria Gommers
Mile3:59.991954, Roger Bannister4:36.231971, Ellen Tittel
3000m7:56.811955, Sandor Iharos9:09.311972, Paola Pigni
5000m13:37.931956, Gordon Pirie15:46.551977, Natalia Marasescu
10,000m28:37.681956, Vladimir Kuts33:14.161978, Natalia Marasescu
Half marathon1:02:531977, Toshihiro Matsumoto1:13:011981, Joan Benoit
Marathon2:14:571963, Leonard Edelen2:35:581977, Chantal Langlace
3000m steeplechase8:40.921956, Semyon Rzhishchin10:08.581998, Daniela Petrescu
110m/100m hurdles13.951936, Forrest Towns13.561969, Pamela Kilborn
400m hurdles51.121934, Glenn Hardin58.201973, Maria Sykora
High jump2.181960, John Thomas1.861960, Iolanda Balas
Pole vault5.301966, Bob Seagren4.401996, Emma George
Long jump7.711924, Robert LeGendre6.401960, Hildrun Claus
Triple jump16.161952, Adhemar da Silva13.731987, Flora Hyacinth
Shot put19.231956, Parry O'Brien18.351962, Tamara Press
Discus60.771962, Al Oerter60.171967, Liesel Westermann
Hammer72.871965, Gyula Zsivotzky68.851996, Mihaela Melinte
Javelin78.681938, Yrjo Nikkanen60.951964, Yelena Gorchakova
Decathlon / heptathlon77101958, Rafer Johnson59981980, Yekaterina Gordiyenko

For reference, I have also included the year in which that performance was first achieved or succeeded and the athlete who accomplished it. It helps to show which athletes were truly ahead of their time, with long jumper Robert LeGendre being the first athlete to achieve a 1075pt score on the IAAF scoring tables with his 7.71m world record from 1924, some 30 years before Bannister’s mile world record.

The thing that puzzles me most about the sub-four-minute mile is: how come we don’t celebrate the breaking of all the other arbitrary landmark performances in athletics? So, for fairness sake, I have compiled a calendar to highlight a bunch of significant marks from the other athletics events (all of which are intrinsically superior to a 3:59.99 mile, for whatever it’s worth).

The calendar of arbitrary athletics barriers

3 – The first sub-1:45 800m (Peter Snell)

2 – The first sub-60:00 half marathon (Moses Tanui)

1 – The first 70.00m discus throw (Jay Silvester)
9 – The first sub-50.00 400m (Christina Brehmer)
15 – The first sub-1:10:00 half marathon (Grete Waitz)
18 – The first 8000pt decathlon (Vasiliy Kuznetsov)
25 – The first 8.00m long jump (Jesse Owens)

10 – The first sub-22.00 200m (Marita Koch)
21 – The first sub-10:00 steeplechase (Daniela Petrescu)
22 – The first 70.00m hammer throw (Olga Kuzenkova)
28 – The first sub-4:00 1500m (Tatyana Kazankina). The first sub-15:00 5000m (Ingrid Kristiansen)

1 – The first sub-11.00 100m (Marlie Gohr)
6 – The first sub-9:00 3000m (Lyudmila Bragina)
9 – The first 80.00m hammer throw (Boris Zaychuk)
11 – The first 2.30m high jump (Dwight Stones). The first sub-2:00 800m (Hildegard Falck)
12 – The first sub-13.00 100m hurdles (Chi Cheng). The first 70.00m javelin throw (Tatyana Biryulina)
13 – The first 6000pt heptathlon (Nina Golovina). The first 6.00m pole vault (Sergey Bubka). The first 20.00m shot put (Nadezhda Chizhova)
14 – The first sub-28:00 10,000m (Ron Clarke)
16 – The first sub-3:30 1500m (Steve Cram). The first sub-32:00 10,000m (Mary Tabb)
22 – The first sub-13:00 5000m (Said Aouita). The first 5.00m pole vault (Yelena Isinbayeva)

5 – The first 17.00m triple jump (Jozef Schmidt)
8 – The first sub-4:30 mile (Paola Cacchi)
12 – The first 20.00m shot put (Bill Neider)
16 – The first sub-8:00 steeplechase (Moses Kiptanui)
18 – The first 7.00m long jump (Vilma Bardauskiene)
19 – The first sub-13.00 110m hurdles (Renaldo Nehemiah)
20 – The first sub-7:30 3000m (Said Aouita). The first 70.00m discus throw (Faina Melnik)
21 – The first 15.00m triple jump (Anna Biryukova)
26 – The first 2.00m high jump (Rosemarie Ackerman)

2 – The first sub-48.00 400m hurdles (John Akii-Bua). The first 90.00m javelin throw (Terje Pedersen). The first sub-55.00 400m hurdles (Tatyana Zelentsova)
6 – The first sub-45.00 400m (Otis Davis)

14 – The first sub-10.00 100m (Jim Hines)
16 – The first sub-20.00 200m (Tommie Smith)
21 – The first sub-2:30 marathon (Grete Waitz)

3 – The first sub-2:10 marathon (Derek Clayton)

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