Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

Collapse

Unconfigured Ad Widget

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

    I've just finished Neal Bascomb's "The Perfect Mile" (Hougton Mifflin) and am happy to report that it is a very good and important book. Every track fan should read it, and we can hope that it will transcend the hardcore track world to appeal to a broader public.

    Bascomb did a great deal of research for this book and it shows. He conducted extensive interviews with his three main subjects--Bannister, Landy, and Santee--as well as with many of their friends and associates. The resulting narrative provides lots of new detail (private conversations are believably recreated, for example) and a great sense of the individual character of these three stars. The narrative spans the period from the '52 Helsinki Games (at which all three were "also-rans") through the famous Bannister-Landy showdown at the ?54 Empire Games. This was clearly one of the greatest and most exciting two-year stretches in all of track history.

    Bascomb is a good writer and propels his story along nicely, giving equal time to each of his three subjects. He succeeds in conveying the distinctly different personalities of the three, as well as the pressures and disappointments they coped with. The real revelation is Santee, who has been unjustly downplayed in earlier versions of this story. Santee was cocky, out-going, and immensely talented--and comes across as nothing less than a pre-"Pre." Unfortunately, he had less than ideal luck. Many of the peripheral figures are also handled reasonably well (although I suspect that characters like Chataway were a bit more lively than their portrayal here). While I sensed that he was not a runner himself, Bascomb does a good job conveying the tension and exhilaration of the actual races.

    That said, "The Perfect Mile" is not quite perfect. The historical background that Bascomb periodically gives seems perfunctory and second-hand. He also could have provided a larger context for some of the central issues of the book: the amateur/professionalism debates, for example. Bascomb makes the point several times that this was an era of transition from an old (and presumably "good") kind of amateurism to a newly professional approach. This is an important issue, but its complexities are not examined at all. As a result, the full significance of Santee's ban for taking excess expenses is never made clear. (This could have been an ideal opportunity to cover new ground. I recall reading a recent interview with Chris Chataway in which he mentioned that the "little brown envelopes" [of cash] were common at the time. If Chataway is willing to talk about this now, I'd imagine others would be too.) Bascomb highlights Bannister as the epitome of the old-style amateur spirit, yet it is interesting to realize that the young doctor was by far the most "scientific" of the three in his approach, taking full advantage of state-of-the-art physiological experimentation and analysis. And, at a time when the amateur code frowned on "pacing," Bannister made blatant and repeated use of pacesetters. His 4:02 in 1953 was an absurdly artificial, private time-trial, and--as we know--the famous Oxford race was an exquisitely choreographed public time trial. By comparison, Landy and Santee almost always ran entirely by themselves, with precious little assistance from anyone else. (It is interesting, in this regard, that Bascomb's "perfect" mile turns out to be the Vancouver race.)

    This book is clearly written for an audience that transcends the track world. As a result, times and dates are used in moderation. I understand this, but feel that such numbers are employed a little too grudgingly. At a of couple points in the narrative, Bascomb says--essentially--that X "raced every weekend for the entire spring." But without some recitation of races, times, and dates, we don't really know what this means. This problem could have been solved with the inclusion of a few appendices in the back: one for a brief recap of the three careers, for example; another listing the evolution of the mile record; etc. Both of these matters are dealt with in the main text, but too briefly. Bascomb's notes are useful, but I wish a bibliography could have been included.

    I was also disappointed by the use of photographs--there are too few, and the selection struck me as distinctly odd and not as strong as it could have been. Notably, Bannister's own book made better use of visuals than this one.

    Finally, the manuscript should have been read closely by a couple of track historians before going to press in order to eliminate a number of questionable assertions and foolish small errors. A partial list of such points:

    p. 26: In describing Zatopek's reputation in the spring of 1952, Bascomb states that he "ran everything from the mile to the marathon." This seems to me poetic but inaccurate: I don't believe Zatopek had run a marathon at that time, and he was never known as a miler.

    p. 38: the word "marathon" is used to describe 24- and 48-hour races.

    p. 57 and 60: Walter George's mile time is given variously as 4:12.75 and 4:12.8. Both are incorrect--it was 4:12-3/4.

    p. 62: In a brief table summarizing the Haegg-Anderson era, Bascomb lists six WR races with time, location, and date. Amazingly, the first four of these dates are wrong (and wildly wrong--common sense would tell us that no mile records were set in Sweden on January 1 of either 1942 or 1943). The problem would appear to have begun with some confusion between the European and American system of dates: day/month/year vs. month/day/year.

    p. 93-94: On the virtues of even pacing, Bascomb writes: "In the mile more energy was used running laps of 58, 62, 64, and 66 seconds than four successive 60 second laps." This may be true, but I find it impossible to believe (can a 4:10 run this way really take more energy than an even-paced 4:00?) and Bascomb gives no source for his assertion.

    p. 128: Bascomb uses the phrase "a diary of torture" to describe a seven week stretch of Landy's training in which he covered "over 300 miles, primarily in endurance runs." This represents less than 45 miles a week--hardly "torture" by today's standards, and not even by those of the mid-1950s.

    p. 160: in the second line on the page, I suspect Bascomb intended to say "covert" instead of "overt."

    p. 211: Bascomb relegates to a footnote the not insignificant fact that Landy's WR run was timed in 3:57.9 and rounded to 3:58.0. He then says, incorrectly, that Landy "had beaten Bannister's time by over a second and a half."

    p. 260: Lon Spurrier is incorrectly called "Len."

    p. 265: Bascomb states that Landy held the mile record "for 2 days shy of 4 years." Actually, he held it for 2 days shy of 3 years and 1 month.

    p. 266: In a recap of the subsequent progression of the mile record, Ryun?s 3:51.3 is mentioned, but not his 3:51.1.

    On the 6th page of the photo section, a caption is wrong: Chataway is listed as "at the far left" of the scene instead of on the far right.

    The above is mostly nitpicking, I would admit, but it is frustrating that a book of this seriousness and quality should have any errors, however slight.

  • #2
    Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

    ..

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

      Hopefully there will be another edition. Tell the editors. Great review. I'd be interested in your take on Sub Four to see what I missed in there.

      Couple of comments:

      "p. 57 and 60: Walter
      >George’s mile time is given variously as 4:12.75 and 4:12.8. Both are
      >incorrect—it was 4:12-3/4."

      Isn't 4:12.75 the same as 4:12-3/4. I realize that you are saying something about auto timing and two decimal placers(I think) but if that is the case then wouldn't 4:12-3/4 be more accurately listed as 4:12.8?

      "p. 93-94: On the virtues of even pacing, Bascomb
      >writes: “In the mile more energy was used running laps of 58, 62, 64, and 66
      >seconds than four successive 60 second laps.” This may be true, but I find it
      >impossible to believe (can a 4:10 run this way really take more energy than an
      >even-paced 4:00?) and Bascomb gives no source for his assertion."

      I may be giving too much of the benefit of the doubt here to the writer as opposed to the editor but he probably meant that it is easier to run a 4:10 with even splits than the ones mentioned above.

      Anyway, I am going over to Chapters(electronically speaking) and ordering the book right now.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

        MJD: I feel strongly that we need to be as precise as possible in reporting historical times. A 4:12-3/4 mile was timed with a 1/4 second watch, giving an accuracy of no more than plus or minus 1/8 second. When we say 4:12.8, we imply 1/10th second timing, and an accuracy of plus or minus 1/20th second. These are two different things, and the difference is respected by NOT "converting" times.

        As for your second question, I was taking Bascomb at his word--he seems pretty clear in what he's saying, and what he says seems quite unbelievable to me.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

          On the matter of accuracy, I intended to note that 4:12.75 implies an accuracy to 1/100th second, with an error of only 1/200th either way--a vastly different notion of accuracy than 3/4 second represents.

          (Why isn't the "edit" button here?)

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

            thanks kuha ! I have meaning to buy the book for about 10 days now but this evening, for sure.

            I like you take peverse delight in finding small factual errors in track articles and books. The only ones that are virtually error-free are T&FN and Sports Illustrated.

            Off the subject a bit, but when it comes to incorrrect captioning of pictures, here's a worse one:

            Looked through a book at Border's back in 2000 on "Greatest Olympic Heroes".... they had picked about 15 of them. Al Oeter of course one of them. Had a great action picture of "him"... only trouble was, it was a picture of Rink Babka. I wrote the publisher a letter about it but did not receive a reply.

            Another minor one I saw lately in a book was in former Senator Bob Kerrey's Viet Nam memoir where we speaks of fellow Nebraska alum Charlie "Green."

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

              And I do indeed know how to spell Oerter, I just forgot to edit my hunt and peck typing !

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                I'm afraid my editing function is always in hyper-drive. I've written a number of books and I just HATE to find errors when it's too late--when the finished book is in your hand. As a result, I also have some awareness of how hard it is to make any published piece near-perfect. But we should strive for it...! The real issue is this: once something goes into print, it's out there "forever"--with the result that misinformation spreads far and wide and is often repeated endlessly.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                  I like you take peverse delight in finding small factual
                  >errors in track articles and books. The only ones that are virtually
                  >error-free are T&FN ....>>

                  Let me beat you guys to the punch: hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                    >MJD: I feel strongly that we need to be as precise as possible in reporting
                    >historical times. A 4:12-3/4 mile was timed with a 1/4 second watch, giving an
                    >accuracy of no more than plus or minus 1/8 second. When we say 4:12.8, we
                    >imply 1/10th second timing, and an accuracy of plus or minus 1/20th second.
                    >These are two different things, and the difference is respected by NOT
                    >"converting" times.

                    Makes sense.

                    As for your second question, I was taking Bascomb at
                    >his word--he seems pretty clear in what he's saying, and what he says seems
                    >quite unbelievable to me.

                    Well I guess we'll find out when you send him the letter.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                      (Why isn't the "edit"
                      >button here?)

                      You mustn't have been logged in when you looked. Did you find any errors in the Lear book?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                        >I'm afraid my editing function is always in hyper-drive. I've written a number
                        >of books and I just HATE to find errors when it's too late--when the finished
                        >book is in your hand. As a result, I also have some awareness of how hard it
                        >is to make any published piece near-perfect. But we should strive for it...!


                        ...even with correspondence which I try to point out to my staff all the time. I think I now know why you were one of the ones screaming for the edit function here. A writer and a track geek. The poor guy didn't stand a chance. Here is a post I made to TC which is on topic. I cc'd the writer and it turns out that it was the athlete that made the mistake but I don't think it matters:

                        "Just a kid out of Southern Methodist University at the 1996 Olympics in
                        Atlanta, Tunks was youngest athlete in the competition at 21 years and
                        came away with experience but not much else."

                        "Tunks would be 40 years of age for his fifth Olympics."

                        I wonder which one he plans on skipping?

                        http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/TorontoSu ... 11661.html

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                          I haven't had time to read the Lear book, although I have it sitting on the shelf... I have a particular interest in Bascomb's project and so took time away from my other reading (all related to a current writing project) in order to go through it. Just not enough time to do it all, unfortunately.

                          By the way, I see that this thread was moved to Current Events. I wasn't sure where to put it, but accept the transplant.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                            I HOPE the darn book is less tedious than your review. your biggest fan , Rip van SATCH .ZZZ.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Bascomb's 'Perfect Mile'

                              Satch: Don't even bother to get it. Bascomb uses a bunch of words that are more than four letters long, and he insists on writing in complete sentences and using conventional punctuation. Not your kind of thing at all.

                              Comment

                              Working...
                              X