Roger Bannister and John Landy returned from Helsinki disappointed. Bannister, dejected from defeat, decided to break four minutes in the mile. Landy, inspired by the greatness he had witnessed, decided to train like an animal. Though separated by an entire ocean, both men would push each other to the pinnacle of aerobic achievement. 

Roger Bannister found a childlike exhilaration in covering ground quickly. He won junior cross-country titles off of little more training than simply running when he felt like it, usually twice a week. He moved to London in 1944 and watched Sydney Wooderson— the  aging, pre-war mile world record holder— return from combat to race world-record holder Arne Andersson. Wooderson lost, but still set a British record in the mile (4:04). Inspired, Bannister resolved to take his training more seriously and began running three times a week. 

By 1948, while studying medicine at Oxford, he had run 4:17 for the mile but declined to try for the Olympics, deeming himself “not quite ready,” but was inspired further. He crafted a plan for the next Olympics— he’d train four times a week, running a mile and a half over cross country then finishing with a fast half or three quarter mile.

 In 1949 he ran 1:52 for the 800m and 4:11 for the mile. In 1950 he honed his speed and focused on the 800, coming in second at British Championships and third in Europe. 1951 he returned to the mile and filled his year with competition: he won the Penn Relays mile in America in 4:08, with a 56-second last lap. He won the British Championships in a meet record of 4:07. Satisfied, he avoided competition until the next spring so that— like Lovelock before him (another miler who studied medicine at Oxford)— he could save his competitive fervor for the Olympics. 

To qualify for the final in Helsinki, however, Bannister faced a semi-final heat in addition to the customary qualifying heat. Having prepared for only two races, his competitive fervor was drained by the final. He battled his way to a British record but managed only fourth place. 

John Landy, on the other hand, didn’t even make it to the final. He didn’t much expect to make it, though, he was just thankful for the Olympic experience. He hadn’t started running seriously until 1949, when he began running through the surf, up and down sand dunes, and across gold courses with his eccentric, elfin coach Percy Cerutty. While he had improved dramatically in the year before the games he had still only run 4:10 and had to pay his own way to Helsinki. He did his best, lost in the heats, then spent the rest of the time talking training with Emil Zatopek—the Czech locomotive who won the 5000m, 10000m and marathon and each day ran workouts of forty repetitions of 400m with 200m jog between each— and checking out European running shoes. 

Landy returned to Australia armed with a better understanding the human capacity for work and with better tools for working. He attended agricultural school and every weekday, after class, he’d run loops of a six hundred meter dirt track near his house, alternating one lap fast and one lap slow for twenty laps. On the weekends he ran twenty miles across country. Three months later, he ran 4:02 for the mile and set the running world aflame. 

Bannister, back in London, set about breaking four minutes for the mile, seeking redemption for Helsinki. On weekdays, after his classes, he’d take the train to the track, throw on his spikes, and run a few repeats of 400m with a two or three minute jog in between. On weekends he’d rest, or go hiking with friends. In 1953, he broke Sydney Wooderson’s British record by running 4:03, then, pressed by Landy’s meteoric progress, he ran 4:02 in a rushed time trial that was later deemed unofficial because Bannister used lapped runners as pacers. 

Luckily, Landy stayed in Australia to study and declined a European tour with better competition. From March through July of 1953, he ran long miles on the roads, then, from July to October, resumed his routine of 600m repeats. In November he began running twenty repeats of 400m every other day, and in December began racing again. He ran 4:10 for the mile, then 2:25 for one kilometer, then he ran ten repeats of 400m in 57 seconds each, then 4:02 for the mile with no competition after the first lap. Feeling like he needed more strength, he ran a series of mile and 1200m repeats, usually under 4:20 pace with ten to fifteen minutes rest. He ran another mile in 4:02. He mixed up his training, alternating between short repeats some days and longer repeats other days. In March he ran a mile race each week, always under 4:10, always alone. Frustrated, he fled to Turku, Finland for better competition. 

Terrified that Landy would break four first, the normally solitary Bannister began training with teammates Chris Chattaway and Chris Brasher and even sought advice from a coach, Franz Stampfl. The lunchtime 400m repeats had turned systematic: he’d run ten each day with two minutes rest, attempting to run each session a little faster than the last. The repeats started, that spring, at 66 seconds each. By the end of April, 1954, he had cut it down to 59 seconds each, and deemed himself ready. On May 4th, 1954, he stepped onto a windy Iffy Road Track and, with the help of Brasher and Chattaway, ran 3:59.4. 

Landy landed in Turku just two days before that. For the next few weeks, he flourished in the Scandinavian air. He ran 4:01.6 with splits of 56, 1:56, and 2:58— similar to Gundar Hagg and Arne Andersson a decade before. He ran 4:01.6 again by running 59, 1:59, and 3:01. Then Chris Chataway, free from his pacing duties, arrived in Turku to race and Landy, finally having someone to push him, ran 3:57.9 to set a world record that would last for three years.  

The two met later that summer at the Empire Games in Vancouver. Everyone knew how the race would play out, just like everyone knew how Cunningham versus Lovelock would play out, just like everyone knew how Hagg versus Andersson would play out: Landy would try to break away from Bannister early, Bannister would try to hang on and outkick Landy. And just like Cunningam and Lovelock, Hagg and Andersson, that’s exactly what happened. 

The gun fired, Landy took the lead, and pushed the pace the whole way. He opened a gap, Bannister closed it. He opened another, and Bannister closed it. With fifty meters to go, Landy looked to his right to check on his opponent, and Bannister shot by on the left. Landy, exhausted from leading the whole race, was unable to respond. 

Bannister broke four first and beat Landy in the homestretch. Landy trained harder, ran faster, and led every race from start to finish. Landy failed to break four minutes eight times before finally succeeded. Bannister failed but twice. Landy ran monstrous workouts. Bannister trained on his lunchbreak. Bannister trained and raced with a goal. Landy trained and raced with a code.

Like their ancestral rivals, both embody opposite archetypes. Both possess admirable qualities. Both found success, and peace, in their own paths. 

Bannister trained and raced with a goal. Landy trained and raced with a code. Landy ran as hard as he could, he worked as hard as he could, he understood that somebody had to push the pace and, as the most capable, made sure it was him. Bannister decided to do something, then set about doing it, training as hard as he needed, then, when he decided he was ready, he went out and simply did it. 

Like their ancestral rivals, both embody opposite archetypes. Both possess admirable qualities. Hard work is admirable, so is smart work. Pushing the pace is admirable, so is winning in the homestretch.