Sunday, August 05, 2007

Gunder Hägg/Arne Andersson, Legendary Runner(s) #9

Before moving forward to my #9 runner, I want to clarify something. Some of you will wonder why some of the following runners are not mentioned. You will not see John Walker (first man to break 3:50 in the mile AND to achieve 100 sub 4 minute miles), Sebastian Coe (2 time Olympic 1500 meter gold medalist as well as longtime 800m. record holder), Said Aouita (first man to break 13 minutes in the 5K, gold medalist in the 1984 Olympic 5K and probably the runner with the greatest range of talent), Hicham El Gharrouj (current mile world record holder, 1500/5000 gold medalist in 2004 Olympics), Haile Gebreselassie (considered by many as the greatest of them all) or any of the current champion runners. While all those runners do hold their own place in history, I want to make sure that runners that laid the groundwork before them will not be forgotten.

The next runner or runners in this case, come in at #9. The reason I have two of them is that it's hard to mention one without the other. Pictured to the left (courtesy of is Arne Andersson (in 2nd.) and Gunder Hägg (leading) who both hailed from Sweden. They brought out the best in each other and together they were able to lower the mile world record 6 times (3 each). They are forgotten in history because they were never able to make their impact in the Olympics due to World War II.

On August 28th, 1937, Britain's Sydney Wooderson broke the mile world record running 4:06.4. That record stood until the Swedes started their assault in 1942. Hägg was the first to strike as he lowered the world record to 4:06.2 on July 1, 1942 only to have his record tied 9 days later by Andersson. Over the next two years, they each lowered the record twice with Hägg achieving the last mark of 4:01.4 on July 17, 1945. Hägg and his world record stood for 8 years and 293 days which is the record for the longest standing mile record. Hägg was also the mile record holder when Dr. Roger Bannister finally broke the 4 minute barrier on May 6, 1954.

Both Andersson and Hägg each won the Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal. This award is given annually "for the most significant Swedish sports achievement of the year". Hägg won this award in 1942 with Anderson winning his the following year. In 1946, both runners were branded as professionals which barred them from competition and the chase to break the 4 minute mile. As a final tribute to Hägg, who passed away in 2004, Bannister did credit with using his training methods to help him with his achievement.

#8 will be up next...

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