The mile record that stood the test of time – AW

    It took almost 39 years for Steve Cram’s British one mile mark to fall and the record-breaker who beat it, Josh Kerr, used similarly bold front-running tactics

    When Steve Cram ran 3:46.32 to win the Dream Mile in Oslo in July 1985, little did he realise it would survive as the British record for quite so long. Finally, on Saturday in Eugene, it fell to Josh Kerr as the world champion ran 3:45.34 to beat Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen. “It’s about time!” said Cram.

    It has taken 38 years and 10 months for Cram’s national mark – which was a world record at the time – to be broken. Incredibly, Cram has always felt he could have run quicker on that memorable night in Oslo too.

    “I hadn’t really set out to break the record that night or anything,” he told AW a few years ago. “It was just a case of trying to win the race. I remember crossing the line and feeling ‘woah’ and later that night I said to a few people that if I did 3:46 feeling like that then 3:44 was possible.

    “Of course you always think you’re going to get better and run faster. But I never ran a hard mile again in my life when I was in form. So I guess in terms of a physical accomplishment the mile is the one that stands out compared to my other records.”

    Kerr’s record-breaking run at the Bowerman Mile was similar in many ways to Cram’s run in Oslo in 1985. Most notably, both men were in highly competitive races, as opposed to pure time trials, where winning was the priority.

    Josh Kerr leads Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Jan Figueroa)

    Whereas Kerr was up against Ingebrigtsen, Yared Nuguse, Neil Gourley and Jake Wightman on Saturday, Cram faced reigning Olympic champion Seb Coe, plus John Walker, Steve Scott, Ray Flynn, Abdi Bile and Jose Luis Gonzalez in the Dream Mile.

    As the pacemakers in 1985, James Mays and Mike Hillardt, led through 400m in 56.01 and 800m in 1:53.82 with Cram leading at 1200m in 2:53.14, the pacemaker in Kerr’s race, Abraham Alvarado, went through 400m in 55.91 and 800m in 1:52.74 before Kerr reached 1200m in 2:50.70.

    The two men didn’t shy away from taking the lead either. When the pace slowed briefly down the back straight for the penultimate time in Eugene, Kerr surged into the lead with 600m to go. Similarly, Cram went past Hillardt with just under 400m to go.

    Neither man was content to cruise in the lead either. Instead, despite already running at a ferocious pace, they stretched their legs and challenged their rivals to keep up with them.

    Steve Cram and Josh Kerr (Tim Hutchings)

    Demonstrating the hustle and bustle of world-class mile races, both races saw an early but significant fall. In Oslo in 1985 Pierre Deleze fell at the start and Thomas Wessinghage went down on the second lap. In the Bowerman Mile last weekend, Cole Hocker stumbled in the early stages and it led to Hobbs Kessler getting clipped and stepping off the track, whereas Lamecha Girma later fell with 550m to go before getting up to finish impressively in 3:53.82.

    In a twist of fate, Cram found himself commentating on Kerr’s race for BBC too. Since retiring from the track the Jarrow Arrow has become the voice of athletics in the UK. Away from the commentary booth, he is also often seen giving advice and encouragement to up-and-coming middle-distance runners at grassroots and international meetings. In fact, it’s not unusual to see him striding around events like the English National in the depths of the winter, supporting the next generation of athletes who dream of following in his footsteps.

    Kerr is the man of the moment. His victory over Ingebrigtsen and a world-class field was the stuff of legend. But Cram’s 3:46.32 from 1985 will continue to be revered for years to come.

    Phoebe Gill (James Rhodes)

    The extraordinary Phoebe Gill 

    Phoebe Gill only turned 17 last month but she has already put herself into the frame for Olympic selection with a stunning 1:57.86 in Belfast. Then, on Saturday in Manchester, she followed Seren Bundy-Davies through a brutal first lap of 54.95 before inevitably slowing to come home in 1:58.07.

    The first lap was, Gill smiled, roughly the same as her 400m PB (and quicker than the 55.22 at the Diamond League 800m in Eugene on the same day). But nevertheless she endured the build up of lactic acid to beat Ciara Mageean, who ran an Irish record in second place.

    Extraordinarily talented runners such as Gill should be cherished and given every resource available by UK Athletics. Hopefully her career will go from strength to strength, very much like Keely Hodgkinson’s, but this doesn’t always happen as injuries often strike without mercy.

    Over the years plenty of similarly gifted athletes have drifted away from competitive athletics and you are left wondering if they could have been looked after a little better by the sport.

    Phoebe Gill (Andy Cox)

    Gill is clearly being guided brilliantly by her coach Deborah Steer at St Albans AC. But reaching a major podium in athletics is a bit like a game of snakes and ladders. For every two steps forward, there is usually a step back in the shape of injury or illness.

    Offering advice to an athlete’s coach is never easy. In some ways it can be a bit like trying to give tips to the parent of a child. If I dare to give one snippet of advice, though, it would be to seek out similarly prodigious 800m runners whose careers were frustrated by injuries to get their advice.

    It was good to see on Saturday that this is already happening, too, when Gill found herself chatting to Becky Lyne, the 2006 European 800m bronze medallist, in a post-race interview for the British Milers’ Club.

    Lyne was named British female athlete of the year following her European podium place in Gothenburg that year. The sky, it seemed, was the limit but she had countless injury problems in the subsequent years. Given this, the kind of advice she could give Gill would surely be priceless.

    Charlotte Penfold (David Hewitson)

    Likewise, someone like Charlotte Penfold could probably offer some great advice to Gill. Racing under her maiden name of Charlotte Moore, she ran a British junior record of 1:59.75 aged 17 in the 2002 Commonwealth 800m final in Manchester. The parallels with Gill, therefore, are huge.

    Penfold’s career didn’t progress over 800m but she has continued winning local endurance races and her son, Noah, was among the 800m winners at the Night of the 10,000m PBs this month.

    Hopefully Gill’s career will progress smoothly with just a few minor blips and no major problems. Her rich potential is such that athletes like Hodgkinson and Jemma Reekie are probably already glancing over their shoulders wondering what kind of impact she will make at the UK Championships in a month’s time.

    If things goes awry, though, the sport should be poised to jump in with a safety net of mentors and medics to offer anything she needs to get her back on track.

    Louie Hinchliffe (Houston Athletics)

    Hinchliffe enjoys brilliant breakthrough

    There are few things in athletics more exciting than a sudden and unexpected breakthrough in Olympic year.

    This happened last weekend when Louie Hinchliffe, a relatively unknown sprinter from Sheffield who is studying in Houston, ran a slightly wind-assisted 9.85 in Arkansas.

    Five years ago he finished dead last in the English Schools 100m final but he progressed to win the England 100m title in 2022 and is now going from strength to strength at Houston under coach Carl Lewis. Yes, nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis.

    Like Phoebe Gill, he will undoubtedly turn up at the British Olympic trials in Manchester in a month’s time brimming with hope and ambition and a fearless style of running.

    Find out more about him here.

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